Former Anheuser-Busch VP loses discrimination suit

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 16, 2014 at 4:52 pm •  Published: May 16, 2014
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Anheuser-Busch did not discriminate against a former executive by paying her significantly less than a male predecessor, a jury in St. Louis decided Friday.

The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for more than 10 hours over two days before siding with the company, a onetime family business now owned by Belgium-based brewer InBev.

Counting bonuses and stock options, Francine Katz earned about $1 million annually after her 2002 promotion to vice president of communications and consumer affairs and appointment to the company's influential strategy committee.

But Katz's base salary was half that of John Jacob, a former National Urban League president and Anheuser-Busch board member. The company argued that Katz's salary, benefits and bonuses compared favorably to those in similar positions at other large U.S. corporations and that Jacob had considerably more responsibilities, including an informal role as trusted adviser to former CEO August Busch III, whose family of German immigrants founded the iconic maker of Budweiser and Bud Light in the 19th century.

Both August Busch III and his namesake, August Busch IV, who was CEO at the time of the InBev purchase, testified at Katz's trial, providing a rare public window into the corporate culture of a company that still casts a sizable shadow in St. Louis.

"Anheuser-Busch always has been and always will be committed to treating our employees fairly and consistent with the highest standards," the company said in a written statement after the verdict was announced. "We are pleased with today's verdict, and the jury's acknowledgment that Francine Katz was always treated and compensated fairly during her 20 years of employment at Anheuser-Busch."

In her two-decade career, Katz, 56, rose from a young corporate lawyer to a role as key strategist and the company's top female executive. She was often the face of her hometown employer, defending Anheuser-Busch from state and federal regulators and anti-alcohol campaigns.

After the verdict was announced, Katz said she was disappointed with the outcome but pleased to have a public forum to air her grievance.

"I feel that all of the attention and discussion this lawsuit has sparked is all for the good," said Katz, surrounded by friends and family, including a son who graduated from Washington University earlier in the day. "I hope this opens the door for women in the workforce. We may not have won, but you can't ever win if you don't try."

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