In 1982, the California Department of Fair Employment brought a wage discrimination suit against the Bank of America which was estimated to be worth 86 to 115 million dollars. After investigating the comparable worth of two jobs, the wage discrimination suit was based on the fact that 8,000 BofA tellers, 90 percent of whom were women, were paid about $300 a month less than BofA couriers, 70 percent of whom were men. The Department asked that tellers and couriers be paid equally and that each of the BofA tellers be given $300 a month retroactive pay for the previous three to four years.
As of November, 1986, the 8,000 BofA tellers had not heard about the legal complaint, the investigation, the negotiations, nor the final settlement reached on their behalf.
Why? In 1983, the State of California and the BofA settled the suit behind closed doors. It appears that the State settled for little more than the Bank of America’s “promise” to give tellers better career counseling and to establish merit rather than annual increases.
In addition, in what is believed to be an unprecedented move, the State agreed to give BofA the records from the investigation so the bank could keep the information private!
David Oppenheimer, a lawyer who worked for the Department of Fair Employment for seven years, said he didn’t know of any other case in which the state parted with its investigative files.
Joanne Lewis, former director of the Department and the person who initiated the BofA investigation in 1982, said she was astounded that the agency would have turned over the original files. “It’s just beyond belief that that would happen.” Lewis, who now is a vice chancellor for the University of California, San Francisco, said she and the lawyers expected to win the suit. “There’s no question that if we would have brought it to court, it would have been very expensive for the bank.” Lewis left the Department when George Deukmejian became governor in 1983; the suit was settled in December of 1983.
BofA’s stake in the settlement was enormous; in August 1983, Irwin L. Gubman, one of BofA’s senior vice presidents, wrote Mark Guerra, who replaced Lewis as head of the Department of Employment: “When knowledge of this investigation becomes public, it may well have grave implications for the entire business community in California, for the Governor’s Economic Development and Job Creation Program, and for the Administration’s relationships with the private sector generally.”
The message was not lost on the Deukmejian administration. The nation’s largest state and one of the world’s largest banks shortly thereafter conspired to cover-up a wage discrimination suit which affected thousands of women and may have had a major national impact. The story may never have come to light if not for the efforts of Clark Brooks, an investigative journalist with TAB SACRAMENTO BBB.
THE SACRAMENTO BEE, 11/2/86, “State shrouds BofA settlement,” by Clark Brooks, pp Dl & D2.