ST. LOUIS – Another former Anheuser-Busch CEO defended the beer maker’s executive pay plan Tuesday in a gender discrimination lawsuit filed by a one-time top-ranking female executive.
August Busch IV’s testimony in St. Louis Circuit Court mirrored remarks made last week by his father August Busch III, who preceded the younger Busch as the company’s chief executive.
The 49-year-old retiree was also asked to justify his own compensation — including the multi-year, $120,000-a-month consulting contract he received after the 2008 sale of the company to Belgian brewer InBev.
Former employee Francine Katz sued the brewer in 2009, soon after she left the company where she had worked for two decades. Even though she earned roughly $1 million annually after her 2002 promotion to vice-president of communications and consumer affairs and elevation to the company’s influential strategy committee, Katz still earned less than half of what her male predecessor was paid, the lawsuit claims.
The younger Busch — the great-great-grandson of Anheuser Busch’s founder — largely dropped out of public view after the InBev purchase, which he opposed. He told the jury of seven women and five men that he “gave everything I could to not make that happen. … The shareholders went for the money.”
Wearing a suit and cowboy boots, which also was his father’s signature look, August Busch IV was considerably less verbose than Busch the elder, whose testimony four days earlier was marked by verbal sparring with a Katz attorney and several admonishments by the judge. Pat Stokes, the Anheuser-Busch CEO whose tenure bridged the two Busches, also testified on Tuesday.
To counter a Katz claim that August Busch III avoided a contentious conversation with her for fear she would cry, the ex-CEO known as “The Fourth” said that his father’s hair-trigger temper was guided neither by gender nor familial loyalties.
“I got a lot of it,” Busch said. “I tried to stay in front and take as many bullets as possible.”
Anheuser-Busch’s lawyers have argued in testimony that Katz’s salary, benefits and bonuses compared favourably to those in similar positions at other large U.S. corporations. August Busch IV repeated the assertion that Katz’s primary duty involved public relations, while her predecessor John Jacob, a former National Urban League president, had far more substantive responsibilities, including as August Busch III’s trusted confidant.
Katz is arguing that her job responsibilities were far more significant and included appearances before Congress and meetings with top regulators. She prepared dossiers on activist groups and their “means of attack,” defending the maker of Budweiser and Bud Light from overzealous regulators and public health campaigns led by such groups as the American Medical Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“She did a very good job,” August Busch IV acknowledged.
Katz’s attorney said earlier in the trial that Katz deserves at least $9.4 million she was entitled to from 2002 to 2008, plus punitive damages. In 2008, her final year with the company, Katz reported more than $14 million in income on her federal tax returns, an amount that includes stock options she cashed in.
As the trial unfolds, the jury’s decision could be as much a referendum on St. Louis’ most prominent corporate citizen as on the merits of Katz’s complaint. It’s a scenario that Jim Bennett, the brewer’s lead attorney, seemed to relish.
“We’ve been making beer in south St. Louis for 100 years or more,” he told jurors during opening statements. “We’re happy to have our conduct judged by the citizens of St. Louis.”
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