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When the home office sent higher-ups to visit Weinrich's stores, instead of asking about a woman's job performance, executives such as Dowell Arnette and senior vice president Tom Lopez seemed more interested in her physical attributes. An overweight female employee was called a "fat bitch," and executives wanted to know from Weinrich whether attractive female employees "put out."
Other male managers had similar tales.
Rick Corey was an Ohio store manager for Crown TV before it was purchased by Talley. After the purchase, he recalled in a sworn statement, "the number of female employees in the nine-store district was reduced to a single female employee." And when Corey sent a female candidate to take a management test, he allegedly incurred the wrath of Bill Nutt, who would later rise to the rank of regional director. Nutt "came to my store in order to criticize and berate me for sending a female candidate," Corey said. Nutt allegedly told him, "In case you didn't notice, we do not employ women."
The message that women employees weren't wanted or welcome at Rent-a-Center started with the highest-ranking officers and filtered all the way down to delivery drivers.
If a manager found out a woman was pregnant, she was often deemed "disabled" and fired on the spot. Teri Goodermote, who worked at a store in North Adams, Massachusetts, claims that once her manager learned of her pregnancy, he started assigning her the heavy deliveries and told her to load a bedroom set onto a truck by herself or face termination.
The job of cleaning bathrooms became known as "woman's work" in states as far-flung as Ohio, Florida and New York. Other women simply weren't hired -- many of their completed applications allegedly thrown in the trash can.
The atmosphere also seemed to give male coworkers a license to engage in base, crude and even abusive behavior. A woman who worked as an account manager in Atlantic Beach, Florida, alleged that her store manager popped hard-core-porn tapes into the store's VCRs and enjoyed freeze-framing the movies during particularly graphic scenes. In El Reno, Oklahoma, male employees found a pornographic picture of a woman with facial features similar to those of an account manager; they showed customers the photos, claiming they were actually of the account manager. When a male assistant manager in Massachusetts grabbed a female account manager's backside and was met with a slap in the face, it was the woman who was disciplined for insubordination.
Many of Rent-a-Center's female employees, such as Teresa Greenough, felt overwhelmed and helpless in the environment. "I can't take it anymore," she told her manager when she quit.
Others were fired.
Before it became part of Talley's empire in 1998, Rent-a-Center's workforce was 20.9 percent female. That same year, Talley's company, Renter's Choice, had a female workforce of only 1.8 percent. Two years after Talley bought Rent-a-Center and merged it with his company, the proportion of women in the combined workforce had fallen to 8.5 percent -- about half the women who had been working for the company were gone. At the same time, one regional manager urged his store managers in a memo to "continue to hire gents." So as the pool of women workers shrank, the ranks of male employees grew.
It wasn't any better at the top levels of the company. According to a 1999 company directory, all seven vice presidents were men, all 45 male regional directors were men, 261 men and seven women held the position of market manager and 30 men and just two women were service managers. In the October 2000 company newsletter, "Rental Times," the cover featured a group photo of Rent-a-Center's regional directors -- all men. Inside, the headline read, "Meet the 'Suits' who try to motivate us."