September 27, 2005 in Business

$15,000 settles sexual harassment suit

Compiled from staff and wire reports The Spokesman-Review
 

Bennett Forest Industries Inc. will pay $15,000 to settle a sexual harassment suit brought by a former female employee.

Lorilee Lindsey, who worked at the company’s sawmill in Elk City, Idaho, said she was harassed through offensive comments written about her on the walls of the men’s restrooms.

Although Lindsey complained to supervisors, no one was disciplined, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in a lawsuit filed last year on her behalf. Lindsey was forced to quit as a result, according to the EEOC.

Bennett Forest has denied the allegations, but agreed to the $15,000 settlement. The company also agreed to amend its company policy to ensure that any supervisor or manager who discriminates or sexually harasses employees, or retaliates against anyone making a complaint or taking part in an investigation, is disciplined.

Bennett Forest will also hire an experienced Equal Employment Opportunity coordinator, provide anti-discrimination training annually to managers and employees, and provide periodic compliance reports.

“Employers must not only issue sexual harassment policies but they must also ensure that they’re enforced through periodic training. This way they’ll both educate workers on their rights to be free from discrimination and deter would-be harassers,” said A. Luis Lucero Jr., an EEOC attorney in Seattle.

IRS denied $23 million tax deductions

Lincoln, Neb. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett testified Monday in the trial of his investment firm’s two lawsuits accusing the Internal Revenue Service of denying it more than $23 million in tax deductions.

The trial began in U.S. District Court after some three years of legal wrangling between Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and the IRS.

The case stems from allegations the IRS made an “erroneous, wrongful and illegal” interpretation of the U.S. Tax Code when it denied the deductions.

The original lawsuit, filed in 2002, said the IRS wrongly assessed more than $16 million in taxes against Berkshire in 1989 and 1990. A second lawsuit said the IRS wrongly assessed nearly $7 million in taxes in 1991. The two lawsuits were combined for trial.

The IRS first disallowed the deductions after tracing $750 million in borrowed money to purchase stocks in several companies, including Coca-Cola Co., Time-Warner and Wells Fargo & Co., according to court records. The agency based the denial on a tax code passed by Congress that reduced deductions if borrowed money is directly attributable to the investment that pays the dividend.

OK of $100 million donation delayed

Redwood City, Calif. A California judge on Monday held off on approving a settlement that would require Oracle Corp. Larry Ellison to donate $100 million to charities to settle a lawsuit over a $900 million windfall generated by his sale of company stock.

San Mateo Superior Court Judge John Schwartz scheduled a Nov. 15 hearing for another review of the unusual settlement.

Oracle declined to comment Monday. Messages left with attorney Joseph Tabacco Jr., who filed the lawsuit, weren’t immediately returned.

The proposed settlement would require Ellison — one of the world’s richest men — to donate the money on behalf of Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle during the next five years. Ellison and Oracle would pick the charities.

Tabacco and other attorneys involved in the case would share an additional $22.5 million in legal fees.

The case revolves around some of the Oracle stock that Ellison sold in 2001 before the company announced a string of disappointing financial results. The bad news cause Oracle’s stock to plummet by more than 50 percent during 2001, wiping out $85 billion in shareholder wealth.

GMC credit ratings fall further

Detroit Fitch Ratings lowered General Motors Corp.’s credit rating further into “junk” status Monday, saying the automaker has made little progress in reducing its high costs and is vulnerable if gas prices remain high.

Fitch first cut GM to junk or high risk, high yield status in May. The latest action, which applies to GM and finance arm General Motors Acceptance Corp., lowered the rating one more level to BB, or two levels below investment grade. Standard & Poor’s Corp. and Moody’s Investors Service have also cut the automaker’s rating to junk.

The move will likely make it more expensive for GM to borrow and refinance debt. The automaker has about $136 billion of senior debt, or obligations with priority for repayment in a liquidation, and more than $100 billion of other debt, Fitch said.

Mazda stops production of 2006 Mazda5

Washington Mazda Motor Corp. said Monday it had halted the sale and production of the 2006 Mazda5 crossover because a potential heat buildup in the exhaust system could lead to a fire.

The government, meanwhile, said it was investigating reports that the large sun roof on the Cadillac SRX has shattered while driving at highway speeds, showering passengers with glass.

Mazda said it recalled about 2,000 of the Mazda5s that had already been sold and told dealers not to sell another 700 still on dealership lots. The Mazda5, which seats six but is smaller than a typical minivan, first became available in the United States during the summer.

Production of the vehicle, expected at 10,000 to 15,000 in North America, has been suspended while the company investigates the incidents, the automaker said.


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