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American Express Co. has agreed to a $31 million settlement of a sex and age discrimination suit filed by 17 women who say they were unfairly denied promotions and pay. Company spokeswoman Luz Marie Davis confirmed the agreement but denied the allegations. She said American Express is proud of its hiring and promotion record and settled the suit to avoid expensive litigation. “We were very disappointed with the complaint because (the charges) are very contrary to who we are as a company,” Davis, who represents the money management arm, said Thursday. “If these enhancements that we are going to be making make us an even better place to work, that’s a win-win for everyone.” The plaintiffs believe the agreement is a landmark for the huge financial services company because it changes the way American Express hires and promotes employees, their attorney said. “It was very emotional” when the women heard of the agreement, said their lawyer, Lawrence Schaefer. “These are people who took huge risks to step forward.” The prospective deal, which has yet to be approved by a federal judge, also would require American Express Financial Advisors Inc. to begin mandatory diversity training and install a diversity officer. It also requires the company to make sure that 32 percent of new hires for its financial adviser team are women. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy of the District of Columbia said he would issue a ruling within a few weeks. Four women originally filed the suit and were later joined by 13 more, Davis said. More than 4,000 women would qualify for benefits from the settlement. In a bid to reassure stockholders, Davis added that American Express has fully reserved the money it would owe if the settlement is approved. “There would be no financial impact,” she said. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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