We previously expressed the view that the gender gap in the U.S. employment markets has evolved little despite President Obama’s efforts on behalf of women since his Inauguration, congress has prevented most of his measures from being enacted. But the first bill the president signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (2009), struck down a court decision disadvantaging women who claims discrimination in the work place. The measure, and others, provided a modicum of progress for employed women.
As we have observed previously in this Blog, progress has been tragically slow. Women hold a mere 4.8 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions. Almost a quarter of the firms on the same list have no women in executive positions. Google reported that only 17% of its technology workers are female.
Naturally, those figures are viewing the top of the employment spectrum. For those of us who live and work below the top rung, in the vast middle class, treatment of women is little better. Actually, it is worse.
Although women are acting in management positions, those working in full-time positions earn an average of 77 cents for every dollar that men receive. Two-thirds of employees earning minimum wage or less are women, receiving only $14,500 per year. That level of income is below the nationally-recognized poverty live for a family of four. Only 51 percent of women have access to paid leave for pregnancy. Forty percent of private-sector employees work at firms that offer no sick pay.
These are a few of detriments confronting women in the work place. Although our law firm experiences these burdens with our female clients, our focus is on even more serious – physical and emotional abuse, humiliation, demotion and dismissal from work – to name a few.
One of our Southern Vermont clients reported that her manager pressured her frequently for sex. The manager, a male, touched her private areas and whispered invitations to her. His evaluations of our client hinted that he was not fully satisfied with her work performance. His reviews of her work became replete with negatives. He became overtly critical of her work, embarrassing her in the presence of her coworkers.
When she came to us her appearance clarified that she was suffering from emotional distress, anxiety and depression. She reported these symptoms appeared in the previous year – since her manager began his overtures and criticisms of her.
The lawsuit we brought on our client’s behalf settled at mediation avoiding the unpredictability of a jury trial. She gained past and future lost compensation. Had she taken the case to trial, she probably would have also acquired punitive damages, reimbursement for attorney’s fees and her costs for the action. But that was not a certainty and she settled.
In another instance, a female in Northern Vermont, experienced sixteen years of success as an operations manager at a dairy industry firm. Her reviews were positive and she received annual and performance raises. But the firm hired a new CEO who abruptly fired our client. The new official claimed that the dismissal was a “reduction in force,” a common management maneuver to thin out its work force.
Under federal law, individuals over the age of 40 are protected against age discrimination because they are members of “protected class.” Our client was 54 years of age. Employees fired as part of a “reduction in force” scheme often are victims of age discrimination. It is vital to gather information concerning other employees also being dismissed to compare ages. We seek “comparator” data that includes the ages, tenure and performance records of similarly-situated former employees.
The same approach applies to other forms of employment discrimination – disability, race and national origin, to name a few.
Our search for age-related data established that all employees that the firm terminated were over 40 ; actually, they were all over 50. That helps to establish the case for age discrimination. Statistics may persuade the judge and jury that the employer’s actions were illegal age discrimination.
But sometimes the information is deficient, requiring further proof. Employers are usually careful not to express negative sentiments based on age. But sometimes they slip out and prove fatal for the employer’s defense.
In her case, one of the managers had expressed his view, frequently with other employees present, that our client could not perform his tasks efficiently because he had “too many aches and pains” and “was not what he used to be.”
The case settled at mediation for an impressive dollar figure for our client. As with the previous case, had the client taken the case to trial, she probably would have acquired punitive damages, reimbursement for attorney’s fees and her costs for the action. But that was not a certainty and she settled.
What are the lessons from these two cases? Women are frequently disadvantaged in the work place. But they should endure it. National and state policies encourage females to pursue legal action when employers engage in gambits to take advantage. In this 21st Century females are not required to be slaves subjected to the whims of their masters. They can overcome the abusive ways of some managers.