EEOC Opposes Sex Discrimination Settlement

December 18, 2001 ( - The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a brief in the US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit opposing a tentative settlement for $12.2 million in a sex discrimination case against Rent-A-Center, Inc. in a suit pending in Kansas City, Missouri.

The case, originally filed by two women who claimed individual discrimination, had been ordered to mandatory arbitration by the judge there. No class claims were part of the arbitration, which would have ended that case. But, on October 31 Rent-A-Center and the two women submitted a proposed $12.2 million settlement designed to dispose of all claims by female employees and applicants all over the country, including those in the EEOC’s Illinois and Tennessee cases.

The EEOC says the settlement has significant deficiencies, as well as serious unresolved questions about whether the women who settled the case can fairly and adequately look out for the interests of thousands of other women.

The Commission also told the court that the settlement could ultimately bind the thousands of women with similar claims against Rent-A-Center in its two lawsuits brought by the Commission against Rent-A-Center in Illinois and Tennessee.

On November 29 a federal judge in the Western District of Missouri gave preliminary approval to the settlement of the Kansas City lawsuit. The judge also allowed the parties in the case to send letters offering a settlement amount ranging from $500 to $7,000 to every woman throughout the country who worked for Rent-A-Center or sought employment there since early 1998. The amount would be paid in exchange for their agreement to give up all claims, including those EEOC made for women in its lawsuits in Illinois and Tennessee.

The women represented in the case were able to seek a different recovery, up to a maximum of $25,000-$50,000 depending on various circumstances. However if they do, they risk the chance of not getting any settlement money. Also, the proposed settlement provides no jobs or reinstatement for any of the women affected.

In May of 1999 the EEOC filed a lawsuit in Memphis, Tennessee, charging that Rent-A-Center, when it acquired a competitor named Rentronics, terminated female employees and refused to hire female applicants in Tennessee and Arkansas because of their sex.

In August 2000, 21 female employees, later joined by 6 others, filed a nationwide class action in East St. Louis, Illinois, claiming that after Renters Choice acquired 1,400 Rent-A-Center stores and assumed the name of Rent-A-Center, the company systematically eliminated women from its workforce.

The complaint alleged that Rent-A-Center got rid of job classifications previously held by women, imposed an unfair weight-lifting requirement, harassed and unfairly disciplined female employees, assigned them cleaning and clerical duties, demoted and failed to promote them, refused to hire them, and discharged them or forced them to resign.

-Nicole Halsey