The Work

October 28, 2009 5:46 PM

This Suit's for You: Ex-Armstrong Teasdale Associate Accuses Anheuser-Busch of Discrimination

Posted by Brian Baxter

It's not just President Barack Obama who's being accused of having a male-dominated workplace.

While White House shenanigans seem much more benign, Anheuser-Busch is being accused by a former female executive of allegedly marginalizing women in office social networks and deliberately paying them less than their male counterparts.

The allegations are part of a sex discrimination suit filed on Monday against the St. Louis-based beer giant by former vice president of communications and consumer affairs Francine Katz. Prior to joining A-B 20 years ago, Katz spent five years as a corporate associate at Armstrong, Teasdale, Schlafly & Davis, a predecessor of St. Louis firm Armstrong Teasdale.

According to the 12-page complaint filed in Missouri Circuit Court in St. Louis (courtesy of the St. Louis Business Journal), Katz lodged an initial complaint on March 4 with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights. On October 22, the commission gave Katz her right to sue.

Katz claims that after being named to A-B's strategy committee in 2002, she raised concerns that her base salary and bonus package totaling $500,000 per year was about $750,000 less than that of her male predecessor.

Despite being called "ungrateful" by A-B chairman August Busch III and told by others that her compensation was market rate, Katz claims she continued to raise issues regarding her pay until 2007. (Some of those alleged issues: Katz wasn't given an administrative assistant or the office suite enjoyed by her male predecessor.)

A-B's current vice president of communications, Terri Vogt, said in a statement to The Am Law Daily that Katz's suit was "unjustified" and that she was compensated fairly. She did not reveal the lawyers representing the company.

"Additionally, we believe any challenges she chooses to make about her compensation are subject to the Dispute Resolution Program, which Katz and all other nonunion [A-B] employees agreed to during their employment," Vogt said. "As both an attorney and a member of the strategy committee, Kats was familiar with the requirements of the DRP, which is an A-B program that resolves employment disputes without resorting to lawsuits."

Katz claims she was eventually told that her 2008 base salary and bonus would be increased. But the promised raise never occurred and after Belgian brewer InBev bought A-B for $52 billion in the summer of 2008, Katz discovered through integration documents that the two lowest-paid members of A-B's 17-person strategy committee were both female.

According to her complaint, "[Katz's] duties and responsibilities were materially reduced as a result of the [InBev] acquisition," and Katz left the company on December 31. Only 20 years earlier, Katz had started her A-B career as an associate general counsel after leaving Armstrong Teasdale. She was promoted to director of customer awareness and education in 1990, made vice president of the same portfolio in 1994, and ascended to her final position at the company in 2002.

Mary Anne Sedey, a name partner at St. Louis employment firm Sedey Harper, is representing Katz. Sedey, who did not respond to a request for comment, has a history of winning large sexual discrimination settlements. In 2002 she secured a $47 million settlement from retail chain Rent-A-Center on behalf of a class of 5,000 women.

Katz is seeking lost wages from A-B and an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages.

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