Eastman Kodak Co. defends diversity record in face of lawsuit

Monday, August 2nd 2004, 8:51 am
By: News On 6

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ A lawsuit claims Eastman Kodak Co. _ lauded as a top company for minorities _ unfairly distributed raises to women and black workers and required them to waive their right to sue as a condition of receiving pay hikes and promotions.

According to the federal discrimination lawsuit filed Friday, Rochester-based Eastman Kodak was more concerned about protecting itself from employee lawsuits than helping about 2,000 workers when it awarded around $13 million in raises to blacks and women in 1999.

Executives awarded the pay increases after an internal study found blacks and women had been underpaid for years. But the lawsuit claims that the way Kodak went about awarding the money reflected a pattern of bias and inequality toward blacks.

The plaintiffs seek class-action status, unspecified damages and a judicial order barring discrimination.

``We're going to stand and fight, even if it takes us 100 years,'' plaintiff and former Kodak employee Olin Singletary, 58, said at a Sunday news conference.

According to the lawsuit, Kodak established peer review panels to recommend raises, promotions and changes in work conditions.

But the company paid many employees dramatically less than the peer review recommendations and required them to waive their right to sue as a condition of awarding raises, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit also states that employees were exposed to racial slurs, graffiti and other hostility.

Eastman Kodak officials declined to comment directly on the lawsuit but said the company is committed to fairness.

``We have practices and polices in place and we vigorously enforce those,'' said chief diversity officer Essie Calhoun. ``We don't tolerate discriminatory behavior. We take action when we find it, even to the point of termination.''

Racial minorities made up 20 percent of Kodak's U.S. work force last year. Four of its 11 board members are minorities.

Fortune Magazine named Eastman Kodak one of the 50 best companies in the country for minorities the past three years.