ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) – A St. Louis City jury ruled the former top female executive at Anheuser Busch failed to prove her sex discrimination case against the giant brewery. The verdict of nine to three came after jurors spent ten hours over two days deliberating.
Francine Katz, a former vice president of communications and consumer awareness for Anheuser Busch, filed suit against her former employer in 2009 after learning her base salary, bonus and stock incentives were significantly lower than some of her male colleagues. She did not regret her decision to sue saying, “You can`t win if you don`t play.”
The three week trial involved hundreds of pages of documents and financial details plus terms used by corporate compensation experts that few average jurors would have known. But it also offered a glimpse into the high powered business of top corporate executives who made millions of dollars working in a highly competitive environment.
Anheuser Busch, now a part of an international firm known as Anheuser Busch InBev, issued a statement after the trial saying the company is pleased with the verdict and “the jury`s acknowledgment that Francine Katz was always treated and compensated fairly during her 20 years of employment at Anheuser Busch.”
Katz chose to challenge the male dominated corporate structure when she filed her lawsuit. After losing, she told reporters she was disappointed but felt, “all of the attention and discussion this lawsuit has sparked is all for the good.” She added, “I hope this opens the door in the way women are treated in the workforce.”
The jury foreman, Dorian Daniels told reporters jurors did not see enough evidence to show that sex was the determining factor in how Katz was paid. Andy Jackson, who also served on the jury, said it was a very difficult decision but he did not believe Anheuser Busch “deviated from its compensation plan with Ms Katz any more so than any male on the firm`s strategy committee.” Katz was the first woman to serve on the firm`s strategy committee where major corporate decisions were made.
A large portion of the debate in court centered on whether or not Katz`s job went well beyond that of a typical corporate public relations executive. She said she took on a major and risky responsibility as the firm`s chief spokesperson who stood up for the beer giant at the national level.
Katz appeared on network news programs, fielded questions from national newspapers and spoke regularly at company stockholder meetings. Her attorneys argued that work is normally handled by a firm`s CEO or president.
Former Anheuser Busch executives praised Katz`s ability to handle tough questions and to deflect criticism of the firm by turning attention to company programs promoting responsible drinking of alcohol as well as efforts targeting drunk driving and underage drinking.
Katz, an attorney who once worked on the brewery`s legal staff, said she also was involved in planning strategy for the firm to determine how to respond to difficult and controversial issues that could spawn lawsuits against Anheuser Busch.
In closing statements her attorney Mary Anne Sedey told the jury her job was undervalued and should have been rated as a blended position of 55% top public relations, 25% general counsel (top lawyer) and 20% president.
Anheuser Busch attorneys argued that serving as a public spokesperson is part of the normal job of a top corporate public relations officer. Her salary was set at 130 percent of the average pay of such an executive to recognize the work she did.
A B attorney Jim Bennett said in his closing statement the case is “not about whether the firm got the percentage off ( for her premium pay) , but whether they messed up on purpose.” He repeatedly pointed to two former top executives sitting in the courtroom, Pat Stokes and David Peacock describing them and other CEO`s as persons who acted in ‘good faith’ and did not discriminate.
Bennett called on the jury to decide in the brewery`s favor because it paid Katz based on the firm`s assessment of the duties and responsibilities of her position.
Circuit Judge Rex Burlison who presided over the case praised both teams of attorneys and the jurors for their work and the time they invested in the case.
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