Job Type at Core of Bias Suit

Article excerpt

Only women staffed the 11 open checkout stations at The Home

Depot in Orange Park one day this week.

But on the aisles filled with lumber, bathroom and kitchen

cabinets, hardware and plumbing supplies, most of the sales

staff -- clad in the company's bright orange aprons -- were men.

At the Regency store, the situation was similar.

Just which kind of positions are open to men and women at Home

Depot is at the heart of a sex-bias lawsuit that was joined by

the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Monday.

But while the staffing of men and women in the two stores

visited locally appeared to match the pattern claimed in the

class-action suit, Home Depot says the situation is not the

product of sex bias.

"The company certainly does not have any preconceived ideas

about who does this or who would work in this job or that job,"

said spokesman Jerry Shields.

Many cash register positions are filled by entry-level

employees, he said, while sales floor positions mostly are

filled by workers with trade experience or related experience in

the home improvement industry.

Employees are paid a salary based on their experience, company

officials said.

Home Depot officials declined to disclose the ratio of men to

women in cashier positions, citing the need to keep the

information secret from competitors. There are four Home Depot

stores in the Jacksonville area.

But one of the lawyers suing Home Depot rejects the notion that

staffing patterns just reflect experience.

The company's training and promotion pattern nurtures those men

in the sales position, said M. Christine Carty, an attorney

based at the New York office of Schnader, Harrison, Segal &

Lewis.

Those few women given sales positions do not receive the same

training, she said.

Carty's firm also represents three Tampa women seeking to have

their case joined with the lawsuit filed in 1995 in New Orleans

by four ex-employees of Home Depot.

Orange Park store manager Tim Sparks declined to comment on how

the positions men and women worked in were affected by company

policy.

"We have a diverse work force," he said.

Added spokesman Shields: "The Home Depot has been improving the

numbers of women in management in the home improvement

industry. …