Afternoon State News Briefs: Female employees at state Walmarts file lawsuitWisconsin News
-- Wisconsin has become the latest legal battleground between Walmart and its female employees who claim that they’re being denied equal pay and promotions.
Wisconsin has become the latest legal battleground between Walmart and its female employees who claim that they’re being denied equal pay and promotions.
Minneapolis attorney Jim Kaster filed a class-action suit in federal court in Madison, seeking damages for Walmart workers in parts of Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan as well as the Badger State. The request includes back pay, punitive damages, and other financial relief. A similar case in Tennessee was recently thrown out, as a judge said it was untimely. Another regional lawsuit in Dallas was thrown out last October. Other regional cases are still pending in San Francisco and Florida, after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a national gender-discrimination suit against Walmart in 2011. The justices said there was “no convincing proof” of a company-wide effort to discriminate. But plaintiffs’ attorney Kaster said women were told flat-out that quote, “Women deserved less pay and fewer promotions than men, because men had families to support.” Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove is not commenting on the new Wisconsin lawsuit.
The S.S. Badger car ferry expects to keep shuffling across Lake Michigan this year – even though it no longer has federal permission to dump coal ash as an exhaust. The firm still hopes to win an extension of an EPA grace period which expired in December. A final decision is expected soon. The ferry has been running for 60 years between Manitowoc and Ludington Michigan – and it’s the last coal-fired steamship of its kind on the Great Lakes. In 2008, the EPA gave the Badger four years to find a cleaner alternative to dumping over 500 tons of coal ash into the water each year. The company says it needs more time to finish a new system that uses either liquefied natural gas, or an ash storage unit that stays onboard. Meanwhile, the EPA has received over six-thousand messages about the issue, both pro-and-con. Badger spokeswoman Terri Brown says it fully expects to begin its sailing season in April – earlier than normal – to handle a cargo of wind energy turbines. The ferry normally hauls 30-thousand vehicles and 100,000 passengers across Lake Michigan between May and October.
Wisconsin’s largest military base is ready to put 1,500 civilian employees on furloughs, as part of the impending federal spending cuts. Fort McCoy near Sparta says it has a plan to cut the employees’ pay by 20-percent, by putting them on unpaid furloughs for one day a week. It’s part of the $85-million in automatic federal spending cuts due to take effect on Friday, unless Congress acts before then. President Obama wants more tax increases as part of a last-minute congressional package. But Republicans have said the tax hikes adopted in the fiscal cliff legislation two months ago are enough for now.
Marquette University in Milwaukee has withdrawn its support for a student-led workshop on female sexuality. The 12-week program started just over a month ago at the Catholic Jesuit school. And then officials received a complaint from a former student about the way students were coloring certain body images, and exploring desires and fantasies. Marquette’s Gender-and-Sexuality Resource Center approved the workshop. But campus president Scott Pilarz and provost John Pauly withdrew the school’s sponsorship. Marquette spokesman Brian Dorrington said school leaders were not aware of the specific programming for the student-led workshop. He wanted to make it clear that it was not an academic course, not something that faculty had led. Dorrington said it was student activity that needed to follow university guidelines, just like other Marquette activities. It was the second controversy of its kind at Marquette in the last two years. In 2011, the school rescinded a dean’s job offer to a lesbian scholar, after complaints that her writings did not fit Marquette’s Catholic mission.
A more typical winter has been a plus for Wisconsin utilities. Madison Gas-and-Electric reports an 11-percent increase in its fourth quarter profits. It cited colder temperatures which resulted in the use of more natural gas. MG&E Energy, the utility’s parent firm, has reported earnings of 46-cents a share for October-through-December. That’s five-cents more than the same quarter the previous year. According to the utility’s heating degree-days, it’s been nine-percent colder than last fall and early winter. For the year as a whole, Madison Gas-and-Electric reported a net income of almost $65-million, about four-million more than in 2011. The firm said the demand for air conditioning rose by enough during last summer’s heat wave to off-set lower demands for natural gas during last year’s mild winter.
Governor Scott Walker says President Obama should put his money where his mouth is about the automatic federal spending cuts which are due to take effect Friday. Walker and other governors met with the Democratic president at the White House. Walker said that if Obama is so concerned about the across-the-board cuts on the table, he should give Congress quote, “reliable, more responsible alternatives.” The White House has been telling Americans what the so-called “sequestration” cuts would do to them. The administration has said three-thousand civilian defense employees could be furloughed in the Badger State. Up to 240 teachers could be affected, plus a loss of millions-of-federal dollars for things ranging from fish protections to child care. And the FAA says air traffic control towers could be closed at eight mid-sized airports in Wisconsin from Eau Claire to Kenosha. Democrats are also worried. The state’s newest congressman, Madison House Democrat Mark Pocan, calls the across-the-board cuts “a budget tornado” that’s “irresponsible and unacceptable.”
State wildlife officials want to hear from outdoor enthusiasts about ways to improve fishing access and management of the Driftless Area in the western part of Wisconsin. The DNR is conducting a long-term planning process that will guide future land acquisitions in the area – plus the management of habitat. Nine public meetings are planned for next month, where folks can have their say. Experts will provide maps of the Driftless Area, plus information on fish populations and possible effects from climate change. The meetings begin March 11th in Baldwin and run through March 28th in Fitchburg. More information is available at the DNR’s Web site, accessible at Wisconsin.gov.
Wisconsin’s banking industry continues to recover from the Great Recession. The FDIC said today that the state’s 266 banks made a combined 839-million dollars in profits last year, up from $488-million the previous year. That’s a big increase of 72-percent – and it’s much bigger than the national jump in profits of 19-percent. Only nine-percent of the banks failed to make money. That’s better than the 14-percent from 2011, and 22-percent from 2010. The FDIC also said that only two-and-a-half percent of Wisconsin’s bank loans were non-current at the end of 2012. That’s down from about three-and-a-half percent the year before.
The state’s largest business group takes issue with environmentalists who say that most Wisconsinites are against the proposed mining incentive bill. The Wisconsin Manufacturers-and-Commerce released the results of a poll today, showing that 62-percent of 500 likely voters favored a bill to allow quote, “the creation of an iron mine and good-paying jobs in Wisconsin.” The business group has cited thousands-of-new jobs as a reason for supporting the current Republican package – which sets a timetable for approving state mining permits while changing certain environmental regulations. The WMC poll said 24-percent opposed the mining bill – a gradual increase from the group’s previous two polls last September and October. The survey has a four-and-a-half percent error margin either way. Yesterday, the League of Conservation Voters – which is against the mining package – put out a competing poll showing that almost two-thirds of 900 randomly-picked residents were against the state’s mining package. The bill would make it easier for Gogebic Taconite to open a new iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties. The state Senate will take up the bill tomorrow.
Wisconsin will get almost $900,000 in the settlement of a state lawsuit against a Texas drug company. Health-Point Limited and its partner DFB Pharmaceuticals will pay a total of $33-million for selling an unapproved drug to Medicaid patients. The drug was Xenaderm, an ointment used mainly to treat bed-sores in nursing home patients. Sixteen states and the U.S. Justice Department claimed that Health-Point never obtained the required FDA approval to market the medication. And as a result, Health-Point made false reimbursement claims to Medicaid programs in Wisconsin and the other states involved.
Steven Avery is trying again to win a new trial for one of Wisconsin’s most notorious murders. The 50-year-old Avery is serving life in prison for raping, burning, and shooting Teresa Halbach on Halloween of 2005 at the Avery family’s auto salvage yard in Manitowoc County. He said the circuit judge who heard his appeal, Patrick Willis, was biased against him. That’s because Willis also presided over a hearing in which he found probable cause that Avery committed the slaying. Willis has since retired. And Avery now wants Judge Jerome Fox to consider his request for a new trial. A hearing in that case has not been scheduled. Among other things, Avery claims that his rights were violated due to ineffective lawyers. He also said some of the jurors from his 2007 trial should never have heard the case – and he claimed that the state violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when a prosecutor commented on his lack of testimony during closing arguments. Avery’s first request for a new trial ended when the State Supreme Court refused to consider it. His nephew, Brendan Dassey, has also been turned away in his request for a re-trial. The case drew national attention because Avery had been freed from prison after serving 18 years for a rape he didn’t commit. And he was among the first to be convicted with DNA evidence, after he had been freed with the help of DNA.
Investors can get tax breaks for putting money into four new companies in Wisconsin. The state’s Economic Development Corporation has certified the four firms. That means investors can get state tax credits of 25-percent on whatever they put into the start-up businesses. They are Span-Dex of Franksville, an online platform which makes it easier for professors and researchers to collaborate – United Community of Sherwood, which creates software for businesses to offer cash-back to card members and fund-raisers – Ease-Net of Wauwatosa, which is creating a device that makes electricity from the natural gas used in heating homes and water – and Nex-Vex of Whitewater, a company that lets storm victims and others get multiple bids from roofing contractors in an online marketplace.