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Prudential sued for sex, age, race discrimination

Ten former employees of Prudential Insurance Co. of America — one of the nation's largest life insurers — have filed suit against the company in Minneapolis. They claim that the company willingly fostered an environment that was hostile to women and minorities.

Seven of the 10 plaintiffs are men. Some of them claim that Prudential discriminated against them on the basis of age, national origin, and race, and they also complain of retaliation when they protested to the company about the sexual harassment of their female colleagues.

Allegations of systematic elimination

"Prudential has had a pattern of discriminating against minorities and forcing them out of the company," says Fred Neff, the Minneapolis-based lawyer who is representing Prudential's former employees. "They will use them for their contacts, to get more business, and when they've done that to the point that it's profitable, they constructively terminate them. They do all kinds of things to force them out."

Plaintiffs tell of hard-core videos shown on computer screens during company time, pornographic screen savers, and a computer game created by managers that included comments and features that were insulting to women and minorities. One former employee, a Portugese-American woman, says that her boss offered her advancement in exchange for sexual favors and used racial slurs against her. She also claims that she suffered complications during her pregnancy because of the hostile work environment. She filed complaints with both her boss's superior and with Prudential's corporate offices, with no result, according to Neff.

Prudential says it's harassment-free

While the 10 former employees are bringing suit against Prudential in the Twin Cities, Neff believes that the lawsuit should have a nationwide focus. Some of his clients claim to have witnessed similar discriminatory practices in other states and from some of Prudential's top managers.

Prudential would not comment on any specifics of the case, but did issue this statement: "Prudential has a long-standing and very explicit policy against harassment and discrimination of any kind in the workplace. Moreover, the company actively works to foster a harassment-free work environment for all of its employees."

Recent changes in regulations governing members of the National Association of Securities Dealers made it possible for these ex-employees to sue Prudential. Prior to Jan. 1, 1999, securities brokers and insurance agents were not allowed to bring suit against their employers for work-related issues.

These allegations come more than two years after Prudential settled a massive lawsuit for unethical sales practices — details of that case continue to unfold in Florida and California.

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