ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Over the past 50 years, Menards has built itself into a home-improvement giant. The Eau Claire, Wis., company has 262 stores in 13 states around the Midwest.
But growth hasn’t been without cost. In 2004, several minority employees filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that they were unfairly passed over for promotions.
“Several individuals filed a class action complaint with the EEOC and they claimed they were being held back in attempts for promotion because of their race,” said Attorney Jeffrey Taren.
The initial complaints prompted an investigation by EEOC that lasted until 2010. During that time, federal investigators analyzed the company’s employment and promotion records. The investigation identified some 700 present and former Menards workers who were also discriminated against. They ranged from assistant department managers to store managers.
The case later went to the American Arbitration Association, which approved a settlement between Menards and the plaintiffs on Jan. 24. In addition to paying the class $1 million in claims, Menards will also change how its present and future employees are promoted.
“African-Americans have the same opportunities of anyone else to go up the ladder to become store managers or above,” Taren said.
It’s not clear how many of the plaintiffs worked at Menards Minnesota locations. But Minnesota’s Commissioner of Human Rights, Kevin Lindsey, said the case shows a continuing battle in the general workplace.
“Discrimination still does occur and it’s still prevalent in the United States and in our state of Minnesota,” said Lindsey.
Under the terms of the settlement, Menards doesn’t have to admit any wrongdoing. Company Spokesperson Jeff Abbott called the settlement with plaintiffs and the government, “a wise business decision.”
The company’s written statement further reads, “To continue is like attempting to wrestle an 850 pound gorilla. You may survive doing so for a while but it generally ends poorly for the poor citizens involved.”
Plaintiffs will each receive letters notifying them of the procedure for filing for their monetary award by Feb. 23.