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Eleven black current and former Walgreen Co. workers in seven states sued the drugstore chain on Monday, accusing the company of discriminating against minority employees. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis, Ill., claims the company has a “pervasive policy” of steering black employees to work in stores in areas with mostly black or lower-income customers, using an internal system to categorize stores based on race and income. The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, also alleges that black employees are denied advancement opportunities because the company directs them to its stores with lower profits, sometimes costing them bonuses often tied to store sales and gross profits. Walgreen spokeswoman Tiffany Bruce said that while the Deerfield, Ill.-based company does not comment on pending litigation, “we’re surprised by the allegations because historically we’ve cared about equal opportunity for all of our employees.” “We absolutely have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind and strong policies promoting diversity throughout the company,” she said. The lawsuit, alleging that Walgreen engages in “segregation” of its black workers, seeks unspecified monetary damages and a permanent court order barring Walgreen from using the questioned employment practices. “We believe this is a nationwide pattern of discrimination in promotions, compensation and hiring” at Walgreen, said Tiffany Klosener, a Kansas City, Mo.-based attorney for the plaintiffs. “There are a lot more clients we have that are not named in the complaint.” The plaintiffs are from Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Florida, Texas and Michigan. According to the lawsuit, Walgreen categorizes its stores according to racial, ethnic and income demographics, then uses that information to intentionally “segregate” black management workers at stores with large numbers of black or low-income customers. Walgreen is the nation’s largest drugstore chain by sales. It has more than 4,800 stores in 45 states and Puerto Rico, and 2004 sales of $37 billion. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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