(WOMENSENEWS)–J. Ernest Talley, the chairman and chief executive officer of Rent-A-Center Inc., demanded an openly anti-female employment policy, according to testimony provided as part of a sex discrimination action against the company, reported Washington Post staff writer Kirstin Downey Grimsley.

“A woman’s place is not in my stores;” “Women don’t belong in rent-to-own;” and “Get rid of women any way you can,” are some of the statements attributed to Talley by an Illinois federal judge in a written decision that permitted the company’s 4,800 female employees to pursue bias claims against the firm.

“Mr. Talley’s expressions of the company policy are echoed in statements made by officers, vice presidents, regional directors, market managers and store managers across the country,” U.S. District Judge David R. Herndon of the Southern District of Illinois wrote in his decision permitting the case to go forward. Rent-A-Center is the nation’s largest rent-to-own appliance and home-furnishings chain. The female employees are seeking $410 million in damages.

In his ruling, Herndon recounted testimony from many witnesses, including this statement alleged to have been made by a company supervisor: “Women should be home taking care of their husbands and children, chained to a stove, not working in my stores.”

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said its investigation found that 98 percent of the company’s employees were male and joined in the lawsuit on behalf of the women.

Jeff Lloyd, a spokesman for Rent-A-Center, said the company officials “vigorously denied the plaintiffs’ allegations that were recited by the judge in the recent ruling.”

Lloyd added company officials have said the company has not discriminated against workers in any way and is committed to ensuring equal opportunity for all employees.

The stores of the Plano, Texas-based company rent furniture, computers and appliances to customers who often cannot qualify for credit. In August, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs said Rent-A-Center was charging as much as 225 percent more than other stores, first through high prices and then through extended payment terms with high interest rates.

For more information:

Washington Post
“4,800 Women In Class to Sue Rent-A-Center,” December 29, 2001:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A36781-2001Dec28.html

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA)http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/dca/html/rac.html