David Perdue, Georgia's Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, defended himself Sunday night against charges that he paid female managers less than male ones when he was CEO of Dollar General, saying "it was less than 2,000 people" who brought the lawsuit against the company.
"There was no wrongdoing there," Perdue said in a debate Sunday night against Democrat Michelle Nunn. "That lawsuit or that claim or that complaint was settled five years after I was there. She knows that. And it was less than 2,000 people. We had upwards of 70,000 employees at that company."
Nunn jumped on Perdue's statement. "You know, 2,000 women, that actually seems like quite a lot to me who say that they were discriminated against. And federal investigators -- public knowledge -- found that that was true. And it was during your tenure."
The lawsuit in question was brought against Dollar General in 2006, while Perdue was CEO. Almost 2,100 female store managers sued the company, claiming they had been discriminated against and "generally were paid less" than men with the same job title. Several years after Perdue left Dollar General, the company paid the employees a settlement of almost $19 million.
While Dollar General always claimed it had justifiable reasons for paying women less than men, an area director with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found the company’s explanation for the difference in pay was "not supported by the evidence nor is it sufficient to rebut the sex-based inference established by pay differentials."
Nunn's campaign and EMILY's List, a progressive women's PAC that supports Nunn, are both running ads against Perdue based on the pay discrimination suit. “If David Perdue didn’t do right by women at his company, why would he do right for Georgia?” the announcer asks in one ad.
The attack line may be working. The latest CNN/ORC International poll shows Nunn leading Perdue by 3 points overall, thanks to a huge advantage among women voters.
Perdue's campaign maintains that the candidate has always supported fair pay for women. “David absolutely believes in equal pay for equal work," Megan Whittemore, a spokeswoman for Perdue's campaign, told Time. "That is the law and he has always supported that. Unlike Michelle Nunn who will make it harder for women to succeed, David will be a strong voice for Georgia’s women and families in the U.S. Senate.”