Anheuser-Busch Executive Says She Was Underpaid Millions Because Of Her Gender

CREDIT: AP/Jeff Roberson

In a trial that began last week, Francine Katz, who worked for Anheuser-Busch for 20 years and was formerly the highest ranking female executive, accused the company of underpaying her by millions and excluding her from important functions because of her gender.

After she was promoted to vice president of communications and consumer affairs in 2002 and included in the influential strategy committee, her compensation was more than $1 million annually. But her predecessor John Jacob earned $4.5 million when he left that role. She discovered the discrepancy when she reviewed tax filings during the company’s sale to InBev and while she told the jurors that she hoped the gap would close, after six years she still made less than half of what he made. She also says that former CEO August Busch III called her “ungrateful” when she complained about the gap.

Her attorney, Mary Anne Sedey, is asking for at least $9.4 million for what she would have earned between 2002 and 2008 plus punitive damages. “This was a company run by men who were unaccustomed with working with women at high levels,” Sedey said in her opening statement.

The company’s lawyers contend that Katz’s compensation was comparable with people in similar positions at other large corporations and that Jacob had more substantive responsibilities, including acting as confidant to Busch III. “Francine Katz was paid based on her job, not her gender,” said Anheuser-Busch attorney Jim Bennett. “There was a fair process used, a rigorous process used.” And in his testimony, Busch said of Jacob, “He was a person you could not even put a value on. He could have made his own wages in our company… He was one in a million.”

Besides the discrepancy in pay, Katz has accused the company’s executives of keeping her out of important functions. She says she was excluded from corporate golf tournaments and wasn’t invited along with senior male employees on hunting trips with Busch III. She also said the company forced her to fly on a separate corporate plane and that she was told once that Busch III avoided discussing a contentious environmental issue with her because he was afraid she would cry. “I felt invisible,” she said.

The trial is expected to last weeks, so it is yet to be seen whether jurors will find Katz’s story to have credibility. But it’s a relatively common one. Even the highest paid female executives experience a pay gap, making 18 percent less than their male peers. Yahoo’s female CEO Marissa Mayer is currently making less than a man who worked under her and was fired by the company, while General Motors’s CEO Mary Barra will make less than half of what her male predecessor made this year.

Part of the problem may be what plagued Katz’s career: even when women make it into the C-suite, they are still often relegated to support positions and not handed the same amount of responsibility. Just 16 percent of executives who report to the CEO at the biggest companies are women, and two-thirds are in staff or support positions. Male executives may still be given more trust and access than women even at the highest levels.

And discrimination in the workplace is still alive and well at all levels. About a third of working women say they’ve experienced discrimination at work, and it gets worse the higher they rise, as 45 percent of those at the top report it. One in five women say they’ve been sexually harassed by a boss and 13 percent say they were denied a raise because of their gender.