updated 10/27/2009 2:36:23 PM ET 2009-10-27T18:36:23

A former Anheuser-Busch executive who was the company's top-ranking woman has sued the brewer claiming it encourages a "frat party" atmosphere and pays women less in salary and bonuses than men.

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Francine Katz, former vice president of communications and consumer affairs for the maker of Budweiser, Bud Light and other beers, filed the lawsuit Monday in state court in St. Louis.

In a statement, the brewer's current vice president of communications, Terri Vogt, said the company believes Katz was compensated fairly and the lawsuit is unjustified.

"Our company firmly believes in treating all employees fairly and values the differences of all employees, specifically prohibiting any form of discrimination based on a person's gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability or other prohibited factors," Vogt said.

Katz, her attorney and officials from Anheuser-Busch declined interview requests.

The lawsuit names Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, the company formed when the Belgian brewer InBev purchased Anheuser-Busch, Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. and others last year.

The lawsuit describes a corporate culture that blocked women's advancement with a "locker room" and "frat party" atmosphere. Women were excluded from informal social networks, and the company kept "gender related classification systems for compensation that disadvantaged women," according to the lawsuit.

Katz left Anheuser-Busch in December, ending a 20-year career there. She is seeking damages and lost wages.

In 2002, she was promoted to replace John Jacob, who retired. Her lawsuit claimed that while Jacob earned $1.25 million in salary and bonuses in his final year, she was paid a combined $500,000 — $300,000 in salary and a $200,000 bonus. By 2007, the lawsuit said, Katz was still earning only 46 percent of what Jacob had earned in 2001.

In addition to her role as vice president of communications, Katz said in a statement she was the first woman to serve on the company's Strategy Committee. In September 2008 the company was required to file a supplemental proxy statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission disclosing compensation for all 17 members of that committee.

By then, there were two female members. The lawsuit claimed both women received far less compensation than their male counterparts.

"It was at that time that I discovered I had been treated differently than my male colleagues both in terms of compensation and in the enhanced severance and benefits to be paid to Strategy Committee members upon completion of the sale to InBev," Katz said in the statement.

The lawsuit claims Katz repeatedly expressed concerns about the pay disparity to former Chief Executive Patrick Stokes, former Chairman August Busch III and former CEO and current Anheuser-Busch President David Peacock.

Peacock is a defendant in the suit but Busch and Stokes are not. The suit also names as a defendant Luiz Fernando Edmond, North America president for Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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