Schwan's, the frozen-food delivery company based in Marshall, Minn., unleashed a blistering response Friday in a sexual discrimination case against the company, accusing a government agency of abusing its power while investigating a woman's claims that she was harassed by managers and then demoted for complaining about it.
The company's salvo came Thursday in a U.S. District Court filing in St. Paul, where the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is seeking an order to compel Schwan's to turn over company records. It's just the latest turn in a case that began more than two years ago when management trainee Kim Milliren filed her complaint against the company in June 2007.
Calling the EEOC's investigation "overly burdensome" and "an impermissible abuse of its investigative authority," lawyer James Sherman said in his filing that the company has already turned over records that it believes responded to the EEOC's investigation. But the company balked at requests that it felt were irrelevant, including a list of all 600 company general managers, their names, gender and date of hire, as well as documents that show how people are selected for the general manager program.
The company has also refused the EEOC's request for a list of people who have completed the general manager training program since Jan. 1, 2006, along with their current employment status, gender and other information.
Milliren charged in her initial complaint that company managers harassed her shortly after she joined the company in early 2007. She was in a training program for managers and upon graduation expected to become one of the general managers who run some 500 company depots around the nation.
Milliren said managers passed offensive e-mails and then laughed when she complained about it. A few weeks later she claims she was told she was failing to demonstrate leadership skills and would not graduate from the management program. She resigned rather than take a lower-ranking job, according to court documents.
The EEOC says it needs the requested documents before it can make a ruling in Milliren's complaint. The company called the EEOC's information requests an improper "fishing expedition."
Schwan's said that two men who were in Milliren's class of management trainees also failed to graduate but that shortly after Milliren left the company, another woman successfully matriculated from the course.
The dispute heads to a hearing Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Janie Mayeron in St. Paul.
Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329