Puerto Rico company accused of male discrimination

By DANICA COTO | July 21, 2011 | 7:15 PM EDT

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A U.S. enforcement agency has filed a federal lawsuit accusing a wholesale jewelry and beauty products company of discriminating against men by hiring only women for its managerial positions.

Ventura Corporation Ltd. repeatedly discriminated against men from 2004 through at least 2008 by deterring them from applying for the management jobs, according to a lawsuit filed this week by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"It's not unheard of," Justine Lisser, a senior attorney with the EEOC's communications office, said Thursday, referring to male discrimination. "We routinely file sex-discrimination cases on behalf of anyone. Our laws protect everybody."

The mail order and catalog shipping company is located in San Juan's financial district of Hato Rey.

Ventura attorney Carlos Paula said he had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not immediately comment on it. The company has 21 days to respond.

German Ramirez, Ventura's general director, denied the allegations and said the company welcomes all applicants who meet the job criteria regardless of gender.

"The fact that fewer men opt for the zone manager position because it is a company that deals largely with cosmetics and female beauty products is not a factor that the company can control," he said.

The lawsuit also accuses the company of retaliating against one applicant, Erick Zayas, after he filed a complaint alleging discrimination.

Zayas worked in the company's collections department. When he sought a sales management position, he was told it was open only to women, the lawsuit contends.

Zayas filed a complaint in July 2007 and shortly afterward was appointed manager of a troublesome zone, the lawsuit stated. He also faced different disciplinary standards and was provided with less resources than female managers, the lawsuit says.

When Zayas voiced his concerns, the lawsuit adds, one female regional manager told him, "If you're such a man, you can do it without help."

Zayas was fired shortly after he filed a second complaint in October 2008.

Ramirez said Zayas did not meet company objectives despite numerous attempts by company officials to help him, and added that he was treated the same as women in similar positions.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, seeks a permanent injunction against Ventura to stop the alleged practices of discrimination and retaliation, and it also calls for a jury to determine damages for Zayas and an unspecified number of other men who applied for managerial positions.

More than 700 sex-discrimination complaints from Puerto Rico were filed with the EEOC from 2000 to 2010. Of those, 102 were filed by men, including 14 last year.