In other items: Oberto Sausage accused of discrimination after firings; pirates' access to Microsoft updates will be cut; Ford foresees lower earnings in '05; and Intel sues Chinese firm over software theft.

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The Washington Attorney General’s Office will begin distributing more than $10 million this week to electric utilities in Washington that raised rates during the energy crisis of 2000 and 2001. Three companies — El Paso, Williams and Duke Energy — paid the money as part of a multistate antitrust settlement after investigations into market manipulation.

The utilities will pass the money on to their commercial and industrial customers, mostly through one-time credits on their bills.

The utilities receiving checks include Puget Sound Energy, which will get about $1.3 million; Seattle City Light, about $2.5 million; Snohomish County Public Utility District, about $1.7 million; and Tacoma Power, $715,000, according to Tina Kondo, senior assistant attorney general.

The Washington Consumer Energy Fund was established at the Seattle Foundation to distribute residential customers’ portion of the settlement, which will go to programs benefiting residential customers.

Oberto Sausage

Discrimination alleged after firings

Oberto Sausage is accused of religious discrimination for firing six Muslim employees who took unapproved breaks to observe Ramadan.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is suing the Kent specialty meat processor in federal court, claiming it failed to accommodate the employees’ religious needs.

The employees, all Somalian women who speak limited English, were working on an assembly line during Ramadan in November 2003. In the Islamic holy month, Muslims do not eat or drink during the daylight hours. The fast is broken at sunset with a sip of water and a short prayer.

Through an interpreter, the employees asked permission for either an unpaid work break to observe the ritual, or an alteration of their regular break schedule.

When Oberto rejected their request, the women took the breaks anyway and were fired, according to the EEOC lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court earlier this month.

Oberto representatives could not be reached for comment late yesterday.


Pirates’ access to updates will be cut

Microsoft said yesterday that it plans to severely curtail the ways in which people running pirated copies of its dominant Windows operating system can receive software updates, including security fixes.

Over the next few months, Microsoft will begin to more broadly adopt a program, Windows Genuine Advantage, that urges users to provide proof that their Windows copy is authentic before receiving some software updates.

By mid-2005, the program will become mandatory for Windows users to get virtually all updates, including security fixes available through the company’s Windows Update Web site. But users who have pirated copies of Windows will be able to continue to get security fixes if they sign up to automatically receive them.

Some security experts warned that the new authentication system could increase Internet security problems in general, if there is a spike in unsecured computers open to attack — which could then be used to attack others.


Automaker foresees lower earnings in ’05

Ford expects lower earnings in 2005 because of a drop in profits at its financial-services arm, which contributed heavily to 2004 results, but the nation’s second-largest automaker predicts robust growth from its automotive businesses. Its shares rose nearly 2 percent.

Ford said yesterday it anticipates full-year 2005 earnings per share of $1.75 to $1.95, excluding special items, down from $2.11 a share in 2004. The Wall Street forecast is for full-year earnings of $1.84 a share.

Still, company executives, meeting with analysts in New York, said the automaker remained on track to post a $7 billion pretax profit in 2006.

That milestone was announced as part of a five-year turnaround bid launched in January 2002, when Ford was mired in losses and plagued by eroding sales, questions about vehicle quality and the Firestone tire crisis.


Chinese firm sued over software theft

Intel has sued a Chinese networking-components maker for allegedly using copyright software in its products, the world’s largest chip maker said yesterday.

The suit, filed last week against Shenzhen Donjin Communication Tech, may mark Intel’s first intellectual-property-theft lawsuit in China, an Intel spokesman said.

“What we’re alleging is that Donjin is using Intel’s copyrighted software inappropriately,” said spokesman Robert Manetta. “I don’t know that we’ve done this before in China.”

The U.S. chip industry has made the theft of intellectual property in China a top priority.

A representative of Donjin could not be reached. But the China Daily quoted a spokeswoman saying her company owns all intellectual property in its products and is formulating a defense against the Intel lawsuit.

Compiled from Seattle Times business staff and The Associated Press