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Lawyer accuses GE of discrimination

  Legal Business  -   POSTED: 2007/05/31 12:49

A high-ranking lawyer fighting her demotion sued General Electric Co. on Thursday, accusing the industrial conglomerate of gender discrimination in a lawsuit that also seeks to represent about 1,500 female employees. Lorene F. Schaefer, who said she was placed on paid administrative leave earlier this month from her job as GE Transportation's general counsel, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport.

The lawsuit alleges that GE pays female lawyers and women in entry-level executive jobs less than men. The lawsuit also accuses the Fairfield-based GE of failing to promote its female entry level executives, or executive band employees, at the same rate it promotes men in the same jobs.

A call was placed to GE Thursday morning seeking comment.

Schaefer is asking a judge to certify a class of 1,500 plaintiffs that includes female entry-level executives and all female lawyers, potentially seeking damages of $500 million.

"It's a corporate culture. You know you're in a very male-dominated culture," said Schaefer, who as general counsel was the top legal officer for Erie, Pa.-based GE Transportation.

Schaefer, 43, accused GE in her lawsuit of failing to promote female lawyers from senior professional level to executive, from executive to senior executive and from senior executive to the officer level at the same rate as it promotes male lawyers.

Schaefer was an executive band employee since 1997 and a GE employee since 1994. She said she decided to sue in April after learning that she was to be demoted from her job, which paid $380,000 last year, including bonuses.

Executives, including chairman and chief executive Jeff Immelt, decided she was to be replaced by a "big-time general counsel," she said.

"I had never heard those terms, 'big-time general counsel," she said.

Schaefer said she was placed on paid administrative leave earlier this month when she complained about the impending demotion.

The lawsuit, which seeks an injunction to halt GE's pay and promotion policies and practices, names Immelt and numerous other executives.

The lawsuit says Immelt has taken responsibility for changing the top leadership of GE since he became chief executive in 2001. But female senior professional employees comprise about 20 percent, "a disproportionately small percentage," Schaefer says in her lawsuit.

"Women at GE have remained in this disproportionately underrepresented level for the past five years since CEO Immelt took," the lawsuit says.

GE Transportation, a part of the corporation's infrastructure unit, posted revenue of nearly $4.2 billion last year. It comprises aircraft engine and locomotive manufacturing and motorized systems for mining trucks and drills, gas turbines for marine and industrial applications.


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