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Best Buy Faces Discrimination Suit

8 Dec, 2005 By: Holly J. Wagner

A group of current and former Best Buy employees has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the chain, alleging that women, African-Americans and Latinos are paid less than white males, denied promotions and assigned to less desirable positions.

The case is unusual among discrimination actions because it alleges the company's customer segmentation program, which tailors stores according to the surrounding demographics and targets specific customer types, serves to exclude some employees from working at some stores.

The customer types are: "Barry," a male with a six-figure income who purchases what he wants regardless of cost; "Ray," a male who likes electronic gadgets but may not always be able to afford what he wants; "Buzz," a young male interested in gaming and consoles who makes small purchases. The only female customer type is "Barry's" wife, “Jill” — a stay-at-home soccer mom.

The same program has been credited with substantially boosting Best Buy's sales over the last year, but attorneys for the workers say it's an example of a corporate culture that disregards women and minorities.

"This company operates through a corporate culture of racial and gender stereotypes," said attorney Todd Schneider, of Schneider & Wallace.

A Best Buy spokesperson denied the allegations.

"The discriminatory behaviors alleged in the attorney's press release are inconsistent with our policies, values and culture," the spokesperson said. "Best Buy is committed to a workplace free of discrimination. We do not tolerate discriminatory practices."

The lawsuit alleges that Best Buy recruits, hires and maintains a disproportionately white and male sales force, from which it then promotes a disproportionately white male management force.

Nationwide, more than 80 percent of store managers, the top job in a store, are white men; less than 10 percent are women, and less than 10 percent are African-American or Latino, the plaintiffs' lawyers said.

The lawsuit charges that Best Buy is violating federal and state civil rights laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on race or gender.

The suit seeks an injunction against Best Buy's alleged discriminatory practices and the institution of company programs to ensure equal employment opportunities for women and people of color. In addition, the suit is seeking back pay for all plaintiffs.

Attorneys plan to seek class action status for the case, Holloway et al. v. Best Buy Co, Inc., filed Nov. 8 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP and Schneider & Wallace.

Potential class members may find out more and submit information at www.bbdiscrimination.com, or call (800) 362-0481 to leave a message for plaintiffs' counsel.

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