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A federal judge on Friday approved Eastman Kodak Co.’s $21.4 million offer to settle class-action lawsuits by black employees who maintained white counterparts were favored over them for pay and promotion.

In an almost seven-year legal tussle, U.S. Magistrate Jonathan Feldman signed off on a deal that pays about 3,000 current and past Kodak workers amounts ranging from $1,000 to $50,000. The decision ends a 2004 class-action lawsuit and a similar suit filed by other black workers in 2007.

The Rochester, New York-based photography products maker was accused of paying black employees less than white co-workers, passing them over for promotions and maintaining a racially hostile work environment.

Last October, Feldman heard arguments in favor of the deal from Kodak and lawyers for the plaintiffs. He then fielded complaints from more than a dozen former employees who said proposed payouts were inadequate, lawyer fees too high and the offer unfairly excluded workers who left Kodak before 1999.

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Under the settlement, 3,008 workers get $9.65 million and their lawyers $9.7 million in fees and expenses. Adjustments to individual awards were negotiated, with a dozen workers having $75,000 awards reduced by one-third.

The balance of the settlement will go to administering the claims and supporting enhanced diversity training for supervisors that Kodak promised as part of the deal. The company will also hire an industrial psychologist and two labor statisticians to review pay and promotion policies and recommend improvements.

In a statement, Kodak said the settlement “represents a resolution of mutual interest and it absolutely does not suggest any wrongdoing” on the company’s part.

“Kodak is widely recognized as a company committed to creating and maintaining an inclusive workplace in which all employees are valued, treated fairly and can contribute to their full potential,” it added.

The judge noted that a Kodak damage expert, Harvard University Professor David Bloom, analyzed historical payroll data and concluded “there were no race-based disparities in promotion and compensation at Kodak between 1999 and 2005 and African-Americans were, in fact, statistically favored in promotion and base salary increases during the 1999-2005 time period.”

“These risks and others make the fairness of the settlement all the more evident and weigh in favor of approving the settlement agreement,” the judge said in a 59-page decision.


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