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ADA Blind worker wins $8M in disability bias suit Denver (AP)-A federal jury has awarded a blind man who applied for a job at Echostar Communications Corp. and was given a Windows skill test with a sighted person giving directions such as “move to the left, move down, now click,” $8 million in a disability bias lawsuit. The jury awarded Dale Alton $2,000 in back pay, $5,000 in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued Echostar on Alton’s behalf for violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, said in a statement. Alton had just completed customer-service training at the Colorado Center for the Blind when he applied at Echostar in 1999. The center had taught Alton how to use voice recognition software to do the job. CLASS ACTION H&R Block to settle suit over loans for $360M Kansas City, Mo. (AP)-H&R Block Inc. has tentatively agreed to settle a class action over tax-refund loans for $360 million. The nation’s largest tax preparer and its banking partner, HSBC Taxpayer Financial Services Inc., were accused of gouging customers by providing “refund anticipation loans” at interest rates frequently exceeding 100%. The proposed settlement would cover more than 28 million customers and more than 55 million transactions, the company said in a news release. The settlement-for $110 million cash and $250 million in coupons-would go to class members who provide a “timely proof of claim.” The coupons, worth $6 each, could be used for various H&R Block tax-preparation services over the next three years, the company said. EMPLOYEE BENEFITS EDS to settle 401(k) class action for $16.5M Washington (AP)-Electronic Data Systems Corp. has said that it has reached a preliminary $16.5 million settlement of a class action that will require the computer-services company to make changes to its 401(k) plan. In a quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, EDS said that the settlement calls for the company to make a cash payment to the plaintiffs. MEDICAL MALPRACTICE Jury awards $23.8M in botched-birth lawsuit Boston (AP)-A state jury has awarded $23.8 million to the parents of a girl born with cerebral palsy after a traumatic delivery at Massachusetts General Hospital. The jury found that two obstetricians, Mary Ames Castro and Alessandra Peccei, were negligent in the 1996 delivery of Julia McLaughlin. McLaughlin was born with large bruises on her head and bleeding on the tissue around her brain. Lawyers for her parents argued that the two doctors neglected Maria Lynn McLaughlin as she struggled through more than 17 hours of labor and failed to recognize that the baby’s head was tipped so it couldn’t fit through the pelvis. The doctors also did not tell the parents of the risks of brain damage before using a vacuum extractor to pull the baby out. The verdict includes $12.9 million in damages and $10.9 million in interest since the lawsuit was filed in 1998. SHAREHOLDER SUIT Bankrupt Wonder Bread maker settles class action Kansas City, Mo. (AP)-A Missouri federal judge has given preliminary approval to an $18 million settlement proposed by Interstate Bakeries Corp. to end a class action brought by shareholders of the bankrupt maker of Wonder Bread and Twinkies. The class covers all shareholders who owned Interstate Bakeries stock between April 2, 2002, and April 8, 2003. The plaintiffs claim that company officials intentionally misled investors during a September 2002 conference call by saying that snack cake sales were rebounding. Several executives sold $16 million worth of stock after the conference call, and when the company reported in December that sales continued to fall, the stock lost 35% of its value. TAXATION WorldCom’s tax bill to cost MCI $100 million Jackson, Miss. (AP)-MCI Inc. will pay $100 million in cash to cover back taxes that its predecessor WorldCom Inc. owed to Mississippi, state Attorney General Jim Hood announced last week. The telecommunications company will also turn over WorldCom’s former headquarters building in downtown Jackson to the state as part of the settlement. WorldCom collapsed in 2002 amid revelations of an $11 billion accounting fraud to inflate earnings and hide expenses. WorldCom emerged from bankruptcy protection as MCI, which is based in Ashburn, Va., and recently accepted an $8.54 billion buyout offer from Verizon Communications Inc. Mississippi’s claim for unpaid taxes, interest and penalties arose from an alleged complex tax shelter that the former WorldCom had devised to avoid paying income taxes by characterizing management fees as royalties rather than income or service fees.

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