Anheuser-Busch products are a staple at American gatherings. Football games, barbeques, and fraternity socials aren’t complete without a cold one from America’s largest brewing company. But a former female executive at the company claims that she wasn’t invited to the party.
Francine Katz spent 20 years an Anheuser-Busch employee, beginning as a corporate lawyer and rising to a vice president, key strategist and the company’s top female executive. But in a trial against the company that began last week, Katz alleged exclusion and discriminatory payment based on her gender.
When Katz took the stand last week, she told the jury about a boys’ club environment among the execs. For example, the company’s then-chairman, August Busch III, invited male executives to his hunting lodge in Georgia, but Katz was never included. Katz also said that when August Busch IV became CEO, he would regularly hold meeting in his home with male executives, but Katz would not be invited. She testified that on one occasion, all the executives were scheduled to travel for business to Columbia, Ohio, and the male executives traveled on a corporate plane with empty seats while Katz was told to make alternative arrangements.
Katz said this exclusion hurt her ability to network and socialize. “I wanted some level of access…and if that meant I had to shoot a gun, then yeah. I think social interaction with people you do business with is important,” Katz said.
In addition to exclusion from the social aspects of work, Katz also alleged that she was paid less than her predecessor and other top executives at the company. When Katz was promoted to her executive position as Vice President of Corporate Communications in 2003, her salary was increased from $275,000 to $300,000. Her predecessor, John Jacobs, was making a base salary of $605,000. Because of this discrepancy, Katz claims that A-B owes her $9.4 million in salary and other compensation.
The company maintains that Katz’s salary was comparable to top public relations executives at other companies and also that Katz was paid more than 13 male executives on the company’s strategy committee. The company says that Katz’s predecessor, Jacobs, took on roles outside of public relations and has credentials that far exceed Katz’s experience, which justified his higher salary.
The Anheuser-Busch company isn’t a stranger to scandal. August Busch III became CEO of the family’s business after a coup initially resisted by his father. August Busch IV, 49, has been embroiled in his own scandals—including a 1983 car accident that led to the death of his passenger and the accidental drug overdose death of his 27-year-old girlfriend at his mansion in 2010. The company was sold to the Belgian Brewer InBev in 2008, a move that rocked Anheuser-Busch’s hometown city of St. Louis.
It was the sale of Anheuser-Busch that Katz said first alerted her to the discrepancy in her payment compared to other executives. “Make no mistake about it. Francine Katz earned a lot of money at Anheuser-Busch,” her lawyer said in court last week. “But like so many women in this country, Francine Katz was significantly underpaid.” But A-B’s attorney insisted, “Francine Katz was paid based on her job, not her gender.” The trial is estimated to take between two and three weeks.
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