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Jury Awards Woman $2.6M Vs. PepsiCo

May 7, 1999 GMT

WEST BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) _ A federal court jury has awarded $2.6 million to a white woman who said PepsiCo Inc. passed her over for a management promotion for a less-qualified black man.

Patricia Steffes, 46, later quit the company after failing to land the promotion in 1996.

After a four-week trial before U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds in Detroit, jurors yesterday found in Mrs. Steffes’ favor.

``I feel vindicated,″ she told The Detroit News for a story Friday. ``The jury saw that Pepsi had broken the law. It wasn’t about black and white, it was about race discrimination in the workplace. I’m glad I stood up for what was right.″

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Larry Jabbonsky, a spokesman for Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo, said it would appeal. ``We continue to believe Mrs. Steffes’ allegations have no merit,″ he said.

The resident of this Detroit suburb, about 25 miles northwest of Detroit in Oakland County, worked her way up from payroll clerk to a $73,000-a-year management position, when she applied for the higher post in Lansing. The job went to a less-qualified black man, she claimed.

She wrote to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a Pepsi executive, complaining of discrimination.

She said her superiors began retaliating.

``They became very critical of her performance,″ said her lawyer, David Szymanski. ``They tried to transfer her to another part of the state.″

Jabbonsky said Mrs. Steffes was a good worker, but not qualified for the Lansing job because she lacked sales and ``front-line management″ experience.