Rent-A-Center Agrees to Tentative Settlement of Discrimination Suit

Kansas City Business Journal

by Katie Hollar, Staff Writer

Lawyers in a national sex discrimination class-action suit against Rent-A-Center Inc. announced on Thursday that they have reached a tentative settlement with the Plano, Texas, company.

The $47 million settlement will end two pending cases with a potential class of more than 5,000 women. It will cover suits against Rent-A-Center in U.S. Court for the Southern District of Illinois and the Western District of Tennessee.

A third case in the Western District of Missouri will be dismissed. The plaintiffs in that suit will be eligible to receive money from the settlement fund.

In November, lawyers in the Missouri suit reached a $15 million tentative settlement agreement with Rent-A-Center. Through terms of that settlement, the company would admit no liability.

That proposal drew opposition from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Organization for Women Foundation and the lawyers in the Illinois case, who claimed the women were owed more than $400 million.

All parties support the new proposal, which requires several actions of Rent-A-Center in addition to cash payments. The company must make significant changes to its hiring, firing and promotions policies.

Terms of the settlement require Rent-A-Center to do the following:

  • Create and maintain a human resources department, which it has not had since 1998.
  • Fill 10 percent of job vacancies within the next 15 months with women who were fired or rejected because of their sex. The company must notify in writing all women job applicants who have been rejected since August 2000, encouraging them to work for the company.
  • Set up, publicize and pay for a toll-free number to be used by women job applicants or employees to report discrimination.
  • Provide quarterly reports for four years that describe new employment policies and training programs; detail any sex discrimination complaints from job applicants or employees; and compile statistics by gender on hiring, promotion and termination of employees.
  • Publicize its desire to recruit women for jobs in its stores and for promotion into all jobs at all levels.
  • Hire and retain a neutral, third-party consultant who will serve as a resource to the human resources department and as an ombudsman to employees.
  • Produce and air a video in which CEO Mark Speese and President Mitch Fadel will explain the company's commitment to nondiscrimination. The men will recognize the allegations of discrimination and say they will not tolerate it.
  • Seek qualified women to serve on its all-male board of directors.
  • Develop equal employment opportunity training programs for all employees.

The proposal still awaits final approval from the court. At a hearing next month, a judge is expected to determine how to distribute the money and the amount of attorneys' fees awarded.

The Illinois plaintiffs were represented by the St. Louis firms of Sedey & Ray and Schlichter Bogard & Denton, with some assistance by Kansas City lawyer Charley German of Rouse Hendricks German May PC.

Jennifer Gille Bacon, a lawyer at Shughart Thomson & Kilroy PC, represents NOW in this case. Rent-A-Center retained local counsel at Stinson Mag & Fizzell PC.

Reach Katie Hollar at 816-421-5900 or at