Dial Corp., maker of Dial soap and Purex detergent, is in talks to settle sexual harassment allegations by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, postponing a federal trial that was scheduled to start Monday.
Dial might lose as much as $27 million if the U.S. wins the biggest sexual-harassment case since Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America Inc. paid a record $34 million in 1998 to settle similar allegations, a government attorney said.
The Dial suit was brought on behalf of 91 female workers.
The company is accused of creating a “permissive culture” that allowed men to harass women at a suburban Chicago soap factory, the EEOC claims.
The lawsuit says Dial tolerated displays of pornography, lewd remarks, threats, stalking and physical assaults at the plant.
“There are rather delicate settlement negotiations going on at this point,” EEOC lawyer John Knight said.
Dial attorney Camille Olson said both sides had asked U.S. District Judge Warren K. Urbom to postpone the Chicago trial until Wednesday while talks continue.
Shares of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Dial rose 16 cents to $20.56 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Spokeswoman Cindy Demers said Dial takes sexual harassment allegations seriously and denies that tolerating harassment is “standard operating practice.”
Dial’s only soap-making plant, located 50 miles southwest of Chicago, makes about 2.3 million bars of soap a day.
Damages are limited to $300,000 per person under federal law -- a maximum of $27.3 million for 91 women if Dial loses.
More women might be added to the suit if it’s proven that Dial tolerated a hostile workplace. EEOC attorney Noelle Brennan said one-fourth of female employees at Dial since 1988 have testified that they were sexually harassed.