By agreeing to a settlement, even one as colossal as this, the Voice of America neatly sidesteps any acknowledgment of legal culpability. But that doesn't mean they weren't scared senseless by the evidence piling up against them, says TIME legal reporter Alain Sanders. "The government wouldn't have offered half a billion dollars if they didn't see a good case," he says. Now that it's finally over, the Justice Department may wish the case hadn't dragged on quite so long; according to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, all legal fees from the case are now the government's responsibility. The painful irony of this case wasn't lost on the plaintiffs, each of whom will receive roughly $450,000. These were the journalists whose main career objective was spreading the gospel of democracy and freedom over the airwaves even as they fought a losing battle to keep the jobs they'd unquestionably earned.
Listen closely, and you'll hear a slight catch in the Voice of America. And in light of recent events, it's not hard to understand why. Wednesday, the federal government agreed to pay $508 million to 1,100 women who charged the venerable, pro-democracy public radio service with gender discrimination back in 1977. The gigantic cash settlement represents by far the largest disbursement in any discrimination suit in the public or private sector. Each of the plaintiffs claims she was denied job opportunities or promotions within the radio service on the basis of her gender. Some women even recounted verbatim exchanges in which they were told, "It's not good to have too many women around."