April 5, 2011 / 7:49 PM / 9 years ago

Eaton Corp hit with $150 mln gender bias lawsuit

* Discrimination in pay and promotions, harassment alleged

* Eaton says does not discriminate, will defend itself

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK, April 5 (Reuters) - Two New Jersey women filed a $150 million lawsuit accusing their former employer Eaton Corp (ETN.N) of gender discrimination in pay and promotions.

Tuesday’s complaint filed in the U.S. district court in Manhattan against Eaton (ETN.N) and three male managers contends the century-old maker of industrial products promotes a “culture of gender hostility,” especially in its electrical services sector.

The plaintiffs, Amy Gaitane and Mahasti Koosha, said they were sales engineers who were passed over for promotions despite strong job performance, and were subjected to harassment. Koosha also suffered work-related stress that led to a heart attack, the complaint said.

According to the complaint, men comprise all 44 members of the electrical sector’s general sales force management team. The complaint also quoted alleged comments in which one or more male managers referred to female colleagues as “bitches,” or expressed interest in wanting to “do” a plaintiff sexually.

Eaton spokesman Scott Schroeder said the Cleveland-based company will defend against the plaintiffs’ claims.

“At Eaton, we do not discriminate,” he said, adding that the plaintiffs’ claims are “totally without merit.”

The complaint seeks class-action status on behalf of hundreds of current and former female employees, and alleges violations of federal, state and New York City laws. It seeks back pay and benefits, punitive damages and other remedies.

Women in the electrical sector “have been marginalized into peripheral roles,” said Deepika Bains, a lawyer at Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP representing the plaintiffs, in an interview. “There’s an intention behind the activity: It’s an old boys club, and Eaton wants to keep it that way.”

Eaton makes hydraulics, truck transmissions and other industrial products. It employs about 70,000 people in more than 50 countries, according to its annual report.

According to the complaint, Gaitane worked for Eaton in New York and New Jersey from August 2005 until she was fired in April 2010, while Koosha held the same job from August 2003 until she resigned in August 2010 after becoming unable to bear the harassment.

Gaitane is in her mid-30s and Koosha in her mid-40s, Bains said. Neither was immediately available for comment.

The case is Gaitane et al v. Eaton Corp et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-02323. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, editing by Dave Zimmerman)

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