Patricia Folino used to sell carpet wholesale. She doesn't do that anymore - but it wasn't a choice she made. Now, she works to educate women about discrimination in the workplace.
The change began in 1992 when Ms. Folino's employer, World Carpets Inc., of Dalton, Ga., fired 10 regional sales managers. Nine of the 10 were women, including Ms. Folino, who worked in the Philadelphia area. The company replaced the women with six regional vice presidents - all men.
In 1993, Ms. Folino and four other women took their case to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Atlanta. Ms. Folino's younger son was nearing the end of his freshman year in high school. By the time the case was decided in November, he had started his freshman year at La Salle University.
The EEOC said World Carpets had discharged the women and failed to promote them because of their sex. The agency also found the company had discriminated against other women within the company.
Based on the ruling, World Carpets and the women soon will begin negotiating a monetary settlement, although Martha McCorkle, the company's vice president of financial services, said World Carpets did not feel it had discriminated against the women.
Ms. Folino's experiences during those four years of waiting resemble those of many people who decide to file discrimination complaints against their employers, said Ellen Bravo, executive director of the 9to5 National Association of Working Women.
"People notice stories about large settlements, but don't realize there are a lot of people who experience this," Ms. Bravo said. "You're torn and feel really all levels of powerlessness and guilt. .°.°. There's also the strain and expense" of fighting.
Before Ms. Folino's career selling the World Carpets Customweave line to department stores and home builders ended, her managers indicated she was on a track to become a vice president, she said. The Northeast Philadelphia resident already was earning what she called a "very decent living," and she had recently landed a client that had rejected the carpet for years.
Then suddenly, the single mother was without an income, with no real explanation of what had happened, and two sons to support.
After joining the complaint against the company, Ms. Folino said, she was unable to get another job in the flooring and textiles industry, where she had 10 years' experience, 4« with World Carpets. She relied on her family for financial support.
For four years, Christmas wasn't a special holiday.
"They were very hard with my sons," said the Philadelphia native, who gives her age as 40-something. "We were barely making it. I was terrified."
Ms. Folino spent a year trying to establish a franchise to help companies with problems such as conflict resolution and time management. Difficulties getting capital to start the business and working with her partner forced her to abandon that plan.
After the complaint was filed, it took a year for the EEOC to agree to investigate, but Ms. Folino stuck with it because she and the other women couldn't afford to file a lawsuit.
"After a while, people get worn out and go away, which is why this continues to go on in corporations," Ms. Folino said.
"We sit at home alone, thinking no one else is going through these kinds of things," she added. Being out of work and unable to financially support "my sons was my worst nightmare coming true. .°.°. The nightmare helped me recognize a dream to help change things for women."
She established support groups for women, and helped found a local 9to5 chapter, which has 300 members. She started Ms. Folino & Associates, which does marketing for management consultants.
The whole process "put passion in my son to fight for individuals. He sees things in a different light," Ms. Folino said of her son at La Salle, who wants to be a lawyer. "He said, `Mom, how many more things can happen? It's like a Mack truck keeps running you over, and you keep getting up.'
"I told him, `If you collapse into something, you have to climb out. We have an opportunity to help a lot of people and make change. We have to hang in there.'°"
Despite the long battle, Ms. Folino said she would consider returning to World Carpets as a vice president if the company established mentoring and training programs.
9to5's Ms. Bravo said people who choose to fight have different experiences, but they share several traits.
She said people often wonder if something was wrong with them - or if they could have done something to prevent the discrimination.
Obsession with seeking justice is another common feeling, which can sometimes cause problems with the family, Bravo said. The obsession can create a conflict: guilt for creating stress in the family if the person continues with the complaint, or guilt for letting the company off the hook if the person backs out.
In the end, Ms. Bravo said, the feeling is, "At least I know I made it more difficult for them to go after somebody else."
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