The landmark $508 million settlement should end a 23-year-old lawsuit filed by women who claimed that a U.S. agency refused to hire them because of their gender.
The suit, filed in 1977 by 1,100 women against the now-defunct United States Information Agency, charged the agency "rejected employment applications from women based on their sex" in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The proposed settlement, which is subject to approval by U.S. District Judge James Robertson, comes 16 years after a federal court found the government guilty of discriminating against women.
The women had applied for jobs as international radio broadcasters, radio electronic technicians, writers, editors and production specialists at the USIA and Voice of America between 1974 and 1984.
Many of the women who were denied jobs were experienced broadcasters from the British Broadcasting Corp. or other national and international news outlets, qualified writers and reporters, or experienced technicians and producers for network television and radio.
The court ordered the government to pay back pay and interest totaling $22.7 million. Many of those women also were awarded job relief and federal government retirement accounts. The government in addition to the $508 million settlement will pay the $22.7 million in individual awards.
Since 1984, the government has filed and lost two appeals of the case and was denied a hearing by the Supreme Court.
"After exhausting our legal remedies regarding the trial court's finding of classwide liability and litigating the claims of 48 individual class members, we negotiated a classwide settlement that is an equitable and fair resolution of the matter," said Wilma A. Lewis, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
"The settlement amount is the result of the lengthy time period involved, the relatively high-paying positions at issue, the number of claimants and the accrual of prejudgment interest beginning in 1991," Lewis added.
Bruce Fredrickson, attorney for the women, said the trials disclosed that the USIA and the Voice of America, the government's radio broadcaster abroad, regularly manipulated the hiring process to exclude women.
The plaintiffs alleged that the agencies "rigged the system" in favor of men and in some cases, resorted to test fraud, altering test scores and destroying personnel and test files.
"Highly qualified women with specific relevant experience were routinely rejected in favor of men with fewer skills and less experience," Fredrickson said.
The U.S. Information Agency was disbanded October, 1999, and its continuing operations transferred to the Office of International Information Programs (IIP) under the Deparment of State.