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MUSCATINE — A lawsuit filed in February alleges gender-based wage discrimination by a woman who worked for office furniture manufacturers Allsteel and its parent company, HNI Corp.

It is the third case alleging gender-based discrimination against the companies.

Stephani Rife worked for Allsteel and HNI for 13 years, according to the lawsuit. She claims she was paid substantially less than men doing the same jobs, and was fired based on her gender. She contends the companies violated the Equal Pay Act, Iowa Civil Rights Act and Title VII.

Rife first worked in customer service at Allsteel in 2004 and was promoted to production group leader, one of only a few women in that role. She left the company in 2008, but returned in 2011 as a pricing analyst. She was promoted several times, eventually becoming an HNI operations manager.

Rife alleges wage discrimination in each role and as operations manager, she was paid less than a male factory manager who worked for her. The lawsuit also alleges few jobs in operations or factory management are held by women, and when Rife was fired in August 2018, the position was filled by a man.

Rife filed charges of employment discrimination Oct. 22, 2018, with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

A trial date has been set for Aug. 24, 2020 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa and is scheduled to last five days. A status conference was set for July 10, but was continued until January. 

The lawsuit also alleges Rife has and will suffer damages including mental and emotional distress in addition to lost wages and benefits. She seeks compensation for the difference in wages and attorney's fees and costs.

Wage discrimination at the companies were identified in the lawsuit on two other occasions. Allsteel Production Group Leader Michelle Mattingly filed an internal complaint in 2007 when she learned women production group leaders were paid less than men in the same role. After the issue went uncorrected, Mattingly filed a lawsuit, which was settled.

Erin Dindinger, Lisa Loring and Elizabeth Freund, employees of Allsteel, filed a lawsuit in 2011 also alleging wage discrimination based on gender. Allsteel claimed in court documents the employees in those cases were not paid more because of their education and experience, seniority and poor job performance. 

Following a five-day trial in 2017, a jury sided with the employees and found Allsteel had violated the Iowa Civil Rights Act, Title VII and the Equal Pay Act. They were awarded back-pay totaling $204,000, and attorney's fees totaling $269,877.

According to the Rife lawsuit, discovery in the Dindinger case revealed "every woman manager at Allsteel over the course of 13 years (2000-2013) has been subjected to gender-based pay discrimination." The lawsuit also alleges Allsteel has not made an effort to remedy the pay gap since the conclusion of the Dindinger and Mattingly cases.

Allsteel and HNI spokesmen were not available for comment by press time Friday.

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