For 17,960 current and former female employees of Boeing, this end-of-year bonus is bittersweet. According to documents filed Thursday in...

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For 17,960 current and former female employees of Boeing, this end-of-year bonus is bittersweet.

According to documents filed Thursday in federal court in Seattle, Boeing has agreed to pay $72.5 million to plaintiffs in a class-action sex-discrimination lawsuit settled in July 2004. If plaintiffs’ motion for speedy payment is granted, checks could be in the mail by Christmas.

The payout — roughly equal to the list price of a single 737-800 airplane — was the maximum permitted by the settlement agreement last year. The plaintiffs’ lawyers said that reflected the degree of hostility felt by women in the male-dominated Boeing workplace.

“It’s revealing that over 60 percent of female employees filed claims — in most class-action suits a 30 percent response rate is typical,” said Mike Helgren, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

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As part of the settlement, Boeing did not admit to any wrongdoing, but agreed to make changes in its hiring, pay and promotion practices, and in how it investigates employee complaints.

“We’ve moved ahead on numerous fronts in making improvements to our work environment,” said John Dern, a Boeing spokesman in Chicago.

In all, some 20,338 current and former female employees out of a potential 29,000 said they were discriminated against at Boeing’s various Puget Sound-area plants between 1997 and 2000, after which the aviation giant undertook efforts to boost pay for female employees.

Of those claims, some 2,378 claims were thrown out for failing to meet a May 3, 2005, deadline and other filing irregularities.

If the court doesn’t speed up the payment, Boeing has until Jan. 14 to pay the settlement amount to a court administrator, who will then issue checks to class members according to seniority and position. The exact amounts to be disbursed are under seal, but range from a minimum of $500 to $26,000, according to Helgren. The average pre-tax payout is $3,000 per employee.

Deducted from the total settlement will be some $15 million in attorney and legal fees.

Beck v. Boeing, as the lawsuit filed in 2000 is known, alleged a pattern of discrimination at Boeing.

According to company documents obtained by the plaintiffs, women typically earned $1,000-$2,000 a year less than men for similar jobs, a disparity magnified over time by the company’s policy of calculating pay raises based on an employee’s salary.

Another discrimination lawsuit is scheduled to begin in federal court on Dec. 5. Williams v. Boeing was filed on behalf of 15,000 African-American employees.

That case was originally settled in 1999 for $11.3 million, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted plaintiffs’ request for a retrial because of a dispute over the fairness of the award.

Josh Goodman: 206-464-3347 or jgoodman@seattletimes.com