For Francine Katz, reaching the executive suite within America's premiere brewing company was the pinnacle of a 14-year tenure. She started as a corporate lawyer in the legal department and eventually became Anheuser-Busch's top female executive as vice president of corporate communications. Now, she's suing her former employer for what she describes as exclusion and salary discrimination due to her gender.
In a trial that kicked off last week, Katz's lawyers argued that the former executive was paid less than half the base salary of her male predecessor and was repeatedly turned away when she complained about the wage gap. She also claims she was excluded from corporate guys' trips including golf outings and hunting sessions.
Katz eventually resigned from the company in 2008, and sued the following year. The case went through a series of appeals, with Anheuser-Busch going all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case.
Anheuser-Busch's lawyer said that Katz was paid based on her job, not her gender. The company added that Katz's predecessor had a role that included more responsibilities, such as serving as August Busch III's close adviser. The former CEO testified last week at the trial, which contains a jury of seven women and five men, and stressed the difference between the roles Katz and her predecessor played.
"I like Francine Katz a lot and she knows it, but she wasn't my adviser," he said. "John Jacob was my senior adviser," he said, referring to her predecessor.
According to the lawsuit obtained by the Associated Press, Katz's salary was increased from $275,000 to $300,000 plus a $200,000 performance-based bonus and 75,000 stock options after taking over Jacobs's role in 2002. In his last year of employment, her predecessor had a base salary of $605,000, a performance-based bonus of $645,000, along with 270,900 stock options.
"The lawsuit is a reminder that pay discrimination is alive and well at all levels of the workforce, and there aren't the right incentives in the law for employers to self-correct and voluntarily pay their employees fairly," Fatima Gross Graves of the National Women's Law Center told MarieClaire.com. Currently, the Equal Pay Act and Title VII ban pay discrimination. "The challenge is that those laws have loopholes that make them harder to enforce, less effective—the issue surrounding it being that it's difficult to learn about pay disparities in the first place," Graves continues.
Katz's lawyer is seeking lost compensation plus damages to the tune of at least $9.4 million. The trial comes on the heels of Senate Republicans blocking the Paycheck Fairness Act, a piece of legislation that would close major loopholes in the Equal Pay Act that was passed more than 50 years ago. While Democrats argue that more legislation is required to protect women from gender-based pay discrimination, Republicans maintain that sufficient laws are in place and only need to be properly enforced. The GOP also accused Democrats of using the Paycheck Fairness Act as a "political ploy" to court female voters ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.
As Katz's trial continues to unfold, the lawsuit may illustrate the necessity of additional legislation that protects equal pay as it strikes at the core of the Paycheck Fairness Act: the need for transparency. The former executive reportedly learned about the pay discrepancy because she had access to company tax filings during Anheuser-Busch's sale to InBev in the mid-2000s. It was only after she had that information that she could raise complaints about the discrepancy and eventually sue her former employer. Katz claims that she was called "ungrateful" when she raised complaints about the wage gap.
Last month, The Nation's Michelle Chen questioned whether bosses want their employees' salaries to be secret. She cited a 2011 survey that estimated that 50 percent of workers are restricted in some way to openly discussing their pay with colleagues. "The struggle for fair pay isn't captured in wage statistics; it's part of a struggle against the asymmetry of knowledge that divides management and labor—and fundamentally, a struggle for a democratic workplace," she wrote.
The reason Katz is able to take her fight for equal pay to court is because she was able to learn about her colleague's compensation package. Most employees, male and female, are rarely privileged to such information.