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Menard to pay $1 million to settle discrimination claim
Former IndyCar sponsor and team owner Menard Inc. (John Menard) has agreed to pay about $1 million to settle a class-action race discrimination claim.

The settlement, which has received preliminary approval from an arbitrator in Chicago, stems from allegations made in 2004 by three black former employees that the Eau Claire-based home improvement chain had passed them over for promotions because of their race. They accused Menard of maintaining a centralized policy of failing to promote African-American employees, and asserted that hundreds of current and former employees were affected by the policy.

In the settlement documents, Menard denies any discrimination or wrongdoing.

"Yes, that is correct, we did no wrong," Menard spokesman Jeff Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. "But, it is a wise business decision to settle with the federal government whenever one has an opportunity to do so because 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."

Officially, the agreement states Menard entered into a settlement to avoid further burden, expense and inconvenience, the "distraction and diversion of its personnel and resources" and the risk of uncertainty of the outcome inherent in any litigation.

Under terms of the agreement, Menard will have a pool of about $727,000 for settlement payouts to eligible employees and former employees. Up to $363,000 will go to Kinoy, Taren and Geraghty, the Chicago law firm representing the plaintiffs.

Attorney Miriam Geraghty said the settlement received preliminary approval in January, and on Feb. 23, notice will be sent to those potentially eligible for payment. The notice will instruct them on how to participate. Information also will be available online at www.ktglawyer.com.

"Until claims are made, class members won't know exactly how much they are going to be getting," Geraghty said.

Menard also agreed to take steps to ensure race is not a factor with regard to promotion. For example, Menard will provide training regarding equal employment opportunity to all retail store department managers and general managers. It also will evaluate annually the time to promotion for black and white employees, and the number of promotions of black and white employees for certain managerial positions.

The settlement states that since the claim of race discrimination first arose in 2004, Menard has made "a significant number of changes to its policies and practices" to address concerns raised by employees and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"Menard remains committed to having in place a structure that allows for equal opportunity in promotion for all of its employees, including its African-American employees," the settlement document says. JSOnline.com

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