Chanhassen med-tech devicemaker faces federal hiring-bias suit

  • Article by: JAMES WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 6, 2014 - 3:45 PM

Federal officials allege that PMT Corp. would not hire female salespeople, or those over 40.

PMT Corp., a Chanhassen medical device and equipment manufacturer, violated federal civil rights laws by refusing to hire women and workers over 40, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Despite hiring at least 70 people between Jan. 1, 2007, and late 2010, an EEOC investigation showed that PMT hired no female salespeople. John Rowe, who directs the EEOC’s Chicago district and oversaw the investigation, said witnesses said it was because PMT President and CEO Alfred Iversen directed hiring officials to reject female applicants. In addition to hiring discrimination, the EEOC alleges that PMT retaliated against its former human resources director for reporting the alleged discrimination.

“We have identified witnesses who allegedly heard Iversen complain that ‘women in sales is a 100% failure rate,’ and that women were a ‘failure at travel’ necessary for the sales position,” Rowe said.

Iversen denied the allegations Wednesday, saying he intends to fight the suit. He said he suspects that it may be politically motivated.

“We will be sending an answer to the complaint. We will be denying all of it,” said Iversen, who said he founded the 87-employee company 35 years ago. “I believe we are being attacked. … It may be the White House. I donate a lot of money to the Republican Party.”

According to the complaint, the EEOC also alleges that during the same period, PMT did not hire any applicants over the age of 40. Iversen allegedly told hiring officials to screen out résumés of applicants who had graduated from college more than 10 years previously, Rowe said.

After a PMT human resources official brought allegations to the EEOC’s attention, company management allegedly had a representative go to the local sheriff and falsely accuse the human resources official of felony theft, the EEOC alleges. The agency is asking the court to require the company to adopt nondiscriminatory hiring practices and is seeking back pay and damages on behalf of sales applicants who were not hired. The EEOC also is seeking back pay, lost benefits and damages for the former human resources official.

John Hendrickson, the EEOC regional attorney in Chicago, said, “It appears from our pre-suit investigation — and we expect to prove in court — that once Mr. Iversen learned of the EEOC’s investigation, he allegedly began a campaign of hostile and threatening behavior to smoke out the source of the complaints. The false theft accusation was clearly intended to dissuade anyone else from doing the right thing and cooperating with EEOC. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that the EEOC cannot go about its business of combating employment discrimination if we don’t step up to protect and defend those who bring their complaints to us.”

The EEOC asks that anyone with information related to discrimination at PMT Corp. call its Minneapolis-area office at 612-335-4040.

According to its website, PMT Corp. was started in 1979 and “is dedicated to the research and development of specialty products, devices and instruments used in the medical field including, but not exclusive to, plastic and ­reconstructive surgery, neurosurgery, orthopedic medicine and gastrointestinal endoscopy.”

Iversen blamed the case on a disgruntled former employee — and the fact that he gives a lot of money to Republican candidates for state and federal offices. Campaign finance records show that he has given to several Republican candidates.

“We asked the EEOC to show us one instance of my managers discriminating, and they couldn’t do it,” Iversen said. “They’ve been harassing us for 3½ years.”

 

James Walsh • 612-673-7428

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