Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Judge OKs Dockworkers' Settlement with Union; Women Had Claimed Discrimination and Harassment; Union Doesn't Admit Allegations

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Judge OKs Dockworkers' Settlement with Union; Women Had Claimed Discrimination and Harassment; Union Doesn't Admit Allegations

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM

A historic class action settlement between Jacksonville's longshoremen's union and female dockworkers, designed to increase waterfront job opportunities for hundreds of women, was approved Tuesday. It takes effect in two weeks.

Circuit Judge Charles Mitchell OK'd the settlement in the 6-year-old gender discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit following a contentious three-hour hearing attended by about two dozen members of the International Longshoremen's Union Deep Sea Local 1408.

The judge heard objections from male dockworkers who said it went too far, women who said it didn't go far enough -- even the union lawyers who engineered the agreement, then threatened Tuesday to walk away from it over alleged discrepancies in seniority enhancements.

"The problem with class action suits of this kind is that there's no way to be fair to everyone," Mitchell said. "It's difficult to know where these women would be if they hadn't been discriminated against. . . . No one knows for sure."

The settlement increases seniority levels for women who have worked or sought work at the union hall, where jobs to load and unload cargo are awarded based on seniority. The enhancement is worth tens of millions of dollars, according to an economist who worked on the case. It takes effect Oct. 1.

The local also is required to pay $1.65 million, of which $1.5 million will go to the plaintiffs' lawyers. Vonceil Fisher and Traveine Howard, who filed the lawsuit in 1999, will split $50,000 and the remaining class members will split $100,000.

The lawsuit alleged that women were denied work or forced to perform sexual favors in exchange for work. Under the settlement, the union doesn't admit the allegations.

Plaintiffs' attorneys said they identified 226 women potentially affected, and 159 filed claims. Three women filed objections, including Gail Spencer, who testified the settlement won't reimburse her enough for the discrimination and harassment she endured.

"Each time I was hired . . . there were certain things that went on that I said no to," she said. "Because of me saying no, I have been very discriminated against, sexually or otherwise. …

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