PMT Corp., a Twin Cities medical device maker since 1979, has agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging that the company’s president and staff systematically discriminated against qualified women and people over age 40 in hiring decisions for sales jobs.
The settlement will be divided among dozens of people whose applications for jobs at the company between 2007 and 2012 were not properly considered in the hiring process, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). As part of the consent-decree settlement, PMT has agreed to have an on-site monitor for the next four years to ensure compliance with hiring laws.
“PMT continues to deny the allegations made in the lawsuit,” Chanhassen-based PMT Corp. said in a statement. “The decision was made to enter into the consent decree to put an end to this multiple yearlong litigation so the focus returns to the business of providing lifesaving products to patients all over the world.”
Nick Pladson, lead attorney on the case for the EEOC, said the seven-figure settlement and four-year period of monitoring for a company with 100 employees show the strength of evidence.
He said the case was important because sales jobs at PMT Corp. were considered entry-level positions in the industry, paying about $30,000 at the time.
“If you are employing screens at the entry-level gateway to this industry, it’s sort of exacerbating the discriminatory impact of these policies where women and older workers aren’t even being allowed to break into the medical device industry, which in Minnesota, we have lots of companies here,” Pladson said. “That sort of barrier to hire has a tremendous impact.”
The EEOC opened an investigation, and eventually filed its lawsuit, based on a complaint from a former human resources director who said PMT had hired no women, nor anyone over the age of 40, for more than 70 medical-device sales jobs the company filled between 2007 and 2010. Three female sales representatives had been hired by 2012, the lawsuit said.
Women called ‘100% fail’
PMT did not agree with those figures in its answer to the EEOC’s 2014 lawsuit.
The lawsuit said PMT President Alfred Iversen told sales managers and HR personnel that “women in sales is a 100% fail,” and that women are a “failure at travel.” It claimed Iversen told company officials that he didn’t want women working on the road for PMT because they needed to be chaperoned.
The EEOC lawsuit also noted the company’s no-hire record for sales reps over the age of 40 from 2007 to 2010. The suit said that when job-seekers’ ages were not evident on applications, Iversen directed employees in the hiring process to screen out applications with college graduation dates more than 10 years prior.
Former HR Manager Patricia Lebens first brought the allegations to federal officials. When she was unmasked as the EEOC’s source in September 2012, the lawsuit said, Iversen and others told the new HR manager to seek felony charges against her in Carver County for failing to pay $1,865 toward her former employer’s health insurance fund.
Lebens eventually provided documents showing she had paid her full insurance contributions, and in fact PMT owed her $100 for unpaid vacation time. No charges were filed against Lebens.
The company denied any allegation of retaliation, and noted that a trial judge dismissed a retaliation claim in 2014. The consent decree settling the EEOC case, approved Friday by U.S. District Judge David Doty, referenced the retaliation allegation.
Pladson noted that PMT did come to the table to negotiate, and said it has seemed “willing to change,” including implementing significant policies to make it a more fair place to work.
PMT makes specialty products, devices and instruments for plastic and reconstructive surgery, neurosurgery, orthopedics and gastrointestinal endoscopy.