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More ex-workers call Publix biased // CODED

Publix Super Markets Inc. used to code job applications by race, separate them by gender and flag applications from the disabled, according to written testimony from a former employment office manager.

A deposition and affidavit were filed by former employees in Publix's personnel department as part of a sex-discrimination suit Janifer Ellis filed against the Lakeland-based grocery chain.

Ellis' suit, filed last year in Tampa's U.S. District Court, claims she was transferred and then fired after repeatedly complaining about pay unequal to male colleagues. Publix said Ellis, Publix's former real estate tax manager, was fired for having an affair with a business associate, which the company thought could pose a conflict of interest.

According to an affidavit by Hope Kline, Publix's former employment office manager, Publix had policies to separate applications by gender and mark them for race and disability.

Publix officials said Kline and the people in her department put those policies in place. When Publix officials higher up found out about them, the policies were changed.

But Kline's testimony said the policy was acknowledged by and approved by Jim Rhodes, vice president of human relations. Kline no longer works for Publix.

According to testimony by Kline and Joni McDermott, an interview specialist who worked for Kline, Publix would mark forms from black applicants with a "K."

Applications also were sorted and filed separately by gender, both women said. Only applications from men were pulled for consideration for positions in Publix's warehouse system, McDermott said.

Most warehouse workers load and unload trucks or drive forklifts.

In late 1992 or early 1993, one supervisor became irritated after he was sent applications from women and minorities.

He told McDermott not to send him any more applications from "any g------ blacks or women," according to her deposition.

Kline said she heard similar comments. Warehouse supervisors would make comments such as, "We just don't want women in the warehouse," and "Why waste our (supervisor's) time sending over women when we know they won't work out?"

McDermott left Publix on amicable terms in 1994.

Except for the one supervisor saying he didn't want any more black or female applicants, McDermott said she was never told to exclude anyone from the job pool for administrative positions based on race. The policy of excluding women for consideration for warehouse jobs ended in January 1993.

Kline said warehouse supervisors told her not to send black applicants because they didn't want to have more black workers than whites.

"I often complained about this practice to Jim Rhodes, to no avail," Kline said.

Publix's screening policy for promoting clerical workers into secretarial positions also discriminated against black workers, Kline said.

McDermott's deposition also described Publix's policy for handling applications from people with disabilities.

According to McDermott's deposition, applications from people with disabilities were marked with a Post-It-like sticker, where the person's handicap was written.

The practice ended sometime in 1992, the deposition said.

An attorney representing women in a class-action sex-discrimination suit said Thursday that the policies described in McDermott's and Kline's testimony lend credence to claims made by women in two similar lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Tampa.

"This basically shows the discrimination happening in stores was emanating from corporate headquarters," said Sam Smith, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the class-action suit representing store employees. "It would show that the thinking we've alleged is happening in our case was coming from company headquarters."

Ellis' case was scheduled for mediation last week, but the outcome was unclear, court records show.