Home Depot settles bias claims in Colorado

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Home Depot has agreed to settle discrimination claims brought by workers at some of its stores in Colorado for $5.5 million, the company said Wednesday.

The nation's largest home improvement store chain said it does not believe it engaged in any form of workplace misconduct but has agreed to the payout as part of voluntary mediation with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Atlanta-based retailer said it settled to avoid protracted and costly litigation.

The settlement includes $3 million that will be divided among 38 plaintiffs and $2.5 million "for other individuals who were harmed by the same conduct," Denver EEOC spokeswoman Patricia McMahon said.

McMahon said the others are current or former Home Depot employees who worked at the company after 2000, but declined to offer any other details.

"The Home Depot is an equal opportunity employer and has a zero tolerance policy regarding discrimination," the company said in a statement.

The settlement, which must be approved by a federal judge, is limited to the company's Colorado work force. About 5,000 of Home Depot's 300,000 employees work in the state.

The EEOC complaint alleged that female and minority employees were paid less and disciplined more severely than white males. The complaint also said women and minorities were passed over for promotions and that some women were required to work in lower-paying jobs.

Managers failed to investigate the complaints, and some employees who reported discrimination suffered retaliation, the complaint said.

Among the former employees who said they would cooperate with an EEOC investigation was Skip Clancy, who was fired from a Longmont, Colo., store almost five weeks before he was due to receive a bonus for his fifth anniversary.

As he approached bonus time, Clancy said, he was assigned impossible tasks such as staffing a department alone that formerly had three employees. This led to disciplinary notices from management.

Debra Rhodus said she was fired after complaining that a suburban Denver store was too cold in the winter. Joe Hernandez, from Denver, said the only reason he was given for his firing in 2001 was that he "wasn't a team player."

James Bustamante said he was named Employee of the Month at the Golden, Colo., store, then discovered he had write-ups in his personnel file. He later quit.

Clancy, Rhodus and Bustamante did not immediately return telephone messages. No phone number was available for Hernandez.

Rita Byrnes Kittle, the lead EEOC attorney on the case, said Clancy, Rhodus, Bustamante and Hernandez have not yet contacted the agency, but may be able to participate in the settlement if they do.

Home Depot has 36 stores in Colorado, roughly 2 percent of its 1,797 stores in the United States, Canada and Mexico.