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County Sued by Union and Employees for Alleged Bias

Times Labor Writer

Three locals of the Service Employees International Union and 20 county employees filed a class-action suit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday accusing Los Angeles County of discrimination against its 30,000 female, black and Latino workers.

The suit asserts that the county practices sex and race-based discrimination in wages, job assignments, promotional opportunities and other employment practices.

“There is a pattern,” said Winn Newman, the attorney for the plaintiffs and who represented Washington state employees in their landmark comparable-worth case in 1983. “Wherever you go (in county government) and look at jobs occupied primarily by women, it is shown that they earn less wages than jobs of comparable skill, effort and responsibility occupied by men. The same thing goes for Latinos and blacks.”

Newman said this suit marks the first time such a case has been filed in a state court, and is the largest case of its kind that involves both women and minority-group members.

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Elliot Marcus, the deputy director of human resources for Los Angeles County, vigorously denied the charges. “It is the county’s policy to pay equally for equal work, which complies with the (federal) Equal Pay Act of 1963,” Marcus said. “Our compensation policies include salary surveys of local public and private employers and then we set them (salaries) through the collective bargaining process based on our ability to hire and retain employees.”

At a news conference on the steps of the County Hall of Adminisration, Newman said a union study of county wages showed that white male employees are paid 35% more than white women, black men and Latino men for jobs of comparable skill, effort and responsibility. Newman said that when the wages of white men are compared to those of minority women, the gap is 60%.

To compensate for the alleged discrimination, the suit seeks unspecified back pay and a change in personnel practices.

Phil Giarizzo, general manager of Service Employees Local 660, the largest of the county employee unions, called the suit an “action of last resort.” He said the Board of Supervisors and other county officials have “consistently and systematically refused to act voluntarily to end discrimination. Their refusal is in sharp contrast to a growing national trend by employers to move toward ending race and sex discrimination in employment.”

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Representatives from local chapters of the Americans for Democratic Action, the Asian Pacific Legal Center, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Organization for Women, the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference all voiced support for the suit at the press conference.

However, Alan Clayton of the Los Angeles County Chicano Employees organization said that his group, while not opposed to the suit, would not lend its full support until the Service Employees Union also sued the county for discriminating in the hiring of Latinos. He said that Latinos are “grossly under-represented” in the county government work force. Giarizzo said the union plans to “continue to pursue the questions of under-representation of Latinos and Native Americans in all areas of county employment.”

Marcus denied that the county discriminated in hiring against Latinos or any other group.

Last year, the Service Employees International Union filed similar charges of sex and race-based discrimination in wages and promotions by the county with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The agency has taken no action on the allegations.

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