Big utility pays to settle discrimination complaints | NevadaAppeal.com

Big utility pays to settle discrimination complaints

SCOTT SONNER, Associated Press Writer

RENO, Nev. – Sierra Pacific Power Co. has agreed to pay $211,000 to settle a discrimination case after Labor Department investigators found sexually explicit graffiti and a hanging noose during an appointment to visit company’s offices here.

The settlement includes a $82,933 retirement payment to a minority worker ”who felt compelled to leave the racially hostile workplace,” the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance announced Monday. The company denied the worker left for that reason.

The settlement also includes nearly $100,000 in back wages for women and minority workers who were paid less than white men for similar jobs. The company will pay $30,000 toward training programs and toward expansion of a women’s restroom that is smaller than the men’s room.

The Labor Department’s account of the incidents was ”very misleading and inflammatory,” said Sierra Pacific spokesman Karl Walquist at the Reno headquarters.

”It gives the impression that problems are widespread and that simply is not true,” he said. The problems were limited to two of the utility’s more than 12 offices in northern Nevada, he said.

The news came as Sierra Pacific announced its purchase of Portland General Electric from the energy giant Enron Corp. of Houston in a deal worth $3 billion. The move into Oregon makes the utility one of the largest in the West, with 1.7 million customers in three states.

The Labor Department said it found ”name-calling and sexist jokes, derogatory flyers, caricatures, graffiti and a noose in worker areas and in restrooms” during a May visit. It claims the men’s room was kept cleaner than the women’s room.

Angel Luevano, the department’s regional head of contract compliance said from Oakland, Calif., that the utility was cited six times in 1989 and four time in 1993.

Luevano said investigators interpreted the presence of the noose to be racially motivated.

The company suggested the noose might not have been a racist statement, but might instead have to do with the West’s history of lynching bank robbers.

The company has certified it will correct any problems.

A hotline has been set up for internal complaints and an internal study is under way regarding pay equity, Walquist said.