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University of California regents agreed Wednesday to pay $9.7 million in damages to 3,200 past and present female workers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory — the largest such agreement in lab history. The plaintiffs’ attorneys may take home $8.2 million — nearly half — of the $18 million agreement to settle the massive sex discrimination class action. Filed in 1998, the case alleged that women were paid less and promoted less often than their male colleagues at the UC-run lab. The agreement is one of several payouts the university has announced in recent months, amid criticism that it spends too much on litigation and retaliates against whistle-blowers. “You don’t enter into a settlement agreement that involves 3,200 women � unless you have problems,” said James Sturdevant, the lead plaintiffs attorney. He credited the leadership of the lab’s new director, Michael Anastasio, for helping to resolve the case. “This will dramatically change how they pay and promote women at the lab,” Sturdevant said. However, a lab spokeswoman said UC settled to avoid spending more money on a case that so far has cost the lab $12 million in legal costs. While the plaintiffs say the lab is biased, “we continue to feel that this is not the case,” said spokeswoman Susan Houghton. The deal includes $9.7 million to be divided among 3,200 class members and $80,000 that will be divided among seven name plaintiffs. Plus, the university will pay up to $8.2 million in attorneys fees to the four firms that represented the plaintiffs: The Sturdevant Law Firm in San Francisco; Oakland’s Trial Lawyers For Public Justice; Oakland’s Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer; and San Francisco’s Schneider & Wallace. The lab must also change its employee evaluation process, which, the plaintiffs say, allowed gender stereotypes to sway salary and promotion decisions. Now, more emphasis will be placed on employees’ job classification and performance. The lab will also conduct annual studies — which will be shared with the plaintiffs’ attorneys — to monitor male and female employee pay. All 2,500 of the lab’s current female workers will get a 1 percent raise in base pay, which, plaintiffs attorneys say, will cost the lab $850,000 during the first year the agreement is in place. Lab managers will undergo training about the agreement as well as about retaliation, gender bias and diversity. “We feel that this will benefit past, present and future women at the lab,” said Victoria Ni, a staff attorney at Trial Lawyers for Public Justice. Houghton, however, said some elements of the agreement were part of an already planned change in the human resources department. She also noted that the lab, which was represented by Morrison & Foerster, had successfully narrowed the scope of the suit before agreeing to settle. While the plaintiffs originally estimated that 10,000 women could be part of the class, the plaintiff pool was narrowed to 3,200. Instead of paying a projected $500 million in damages, the lab will pay under $10 million in damages, she said. “We feel this was now a reasonable approach,” Houghton said. The settlement is part of a larger effort to quell criticism about the UC’s management of the lab, said Gary Gwilliam, a Gwilliam, Ivary partner. “This is a really important settlement,” he said. “This organization should set the standard for employees’ rights and women’s rights, and they have not done this.” For months the university has been battered by mismanagement allegations at the UC-run Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, as well as the Livermore lab. The uproar led to multiple government probes into the UC’s oversight of national laboratories — which are a key part of the government’s anti-terror effort. Critics have blasted the Department of Energy policies, which they say give the labs a “blank check” to wage taxpayer-funded legal battles. In March, the Recorder reported that the lab’s legal costs skyrocketed to $6 million in 2002, nearly 2 1/2 times what it spent a year earlier. In April, lawmakers announced an energy bill amendment that would limit national laboratories’ legal spending. In recent months, UC regents have agreed to settle cases that have drawn fire from critics. In September, the regents agreed to pay nearly $1 million to a former lab worker who said that she was forced out after she helped the Livermore lab uncover billing abuses. Earlier, UC settled a dispute with security workers who were fired after they uncovered financial abuses at the Los Alamos lab. Paul Schwartz, a spokesman for UC’s office of the president, said the Livermore sex discrimination settlement has nothing to do with other management issues. “This is a lab-specific problem,” he said. “It’s a lab specific case.” The settlement agreement for Jennings v. Regents, 807233-1 — formerly known as Singleton v. Regents — awaits approval from Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw.

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