It is no surprise that women make up a large portion of the work force. However, it may come as a shock that sex discrimination still occurs in the work place and goes unpunished. Although sex discrimination is more of an “umbrella term” that includes many facets, it’s important to know what constitutes it and what the consequences should be.
If you one believe that you have been a victim of sex discrimination by your employer, it is vital to get informed and know your rights as an Employee to ensure your legal rights are protected. Here’s a section of my book “The Employee Rights Handbook” that deals with just that.
Sex discrimination law encompasses many facets. The law mandates equal pay for equal work. It requires equal treatment, policies, standards, and practices for males and females in all phases of the employment relationship, including hiring, placement, job promotion, working conditions, wages and benefits, layoffs, and discharges. It is generally discriminatory in all states and under federal law to:
- Refuse to hire women with preschool-age children while hiring men with such children
- Require females to resign from jobs upon marriage when there is no similar requirement for males
- Include spouses of male employees in benefit plans while denying the same benefits to spouses of female employees
- Restrict certain jobs to men without offering women a reasonable opportunity to demonstrate their ability to perform the same job adequately
- Refuse to hire, train, assign, or promote pregnant or married women, or women of childbearing age on the basis of gender
- Transfer women to less-desirable positions with lesser benefits and opportunities or lowest paying/tip earning shifts than men
- Deny women overtime or the chance to attend career-enhancing seminars while offering these opportunities to men
- Deny unemployment or seniority benefits to pregnant women, or deny granting a leave of absence for pregnancy if similar leaves of absence are granted for illness
- Institute compulsory retirement plans with lower retirement ages for women than men
- Fire women because of their gender
Sex discrimination, also called gender discrimination, is legislated by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the revised Civil Rights Act of 1991. Gender discrimination covers a variety of subjects and is protected by many laws, including the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which makes it illegal to discriminate against women concerning salary or wages, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions and health benefits. You may be the victim of sex discrimination when you are receiving disparate treatment (i.e., being treated differently from other employees), when you are denied employment opportunities primarily because you are a woman, or when the effect of a company policy or rule has a disproportionally negative effect on women in your company, causing an adverse impact.
In certain cases illegal sex discrimination arises if you are a woman who is passed over for a promotion and eventually fired because of your gender, because you filed a charge of sexual harassment, or because you were pregnant (and not because of work performance). In certain instances, it is also possible for you to be constructively discharged from a job even if you quit. Cases have been reported of women who were forced to resign from jobs out of fear they would have to keep working for a supervisor who sexually harassed them. If you are in such a situation and you resign, you may be able to argue successfully that you were a victim of wrongful discharge.
STRATEGY: A charge of gender discrimination, constructive discharge, and retaliation can be made if you are excluded from meetings, observe that promotions and senior management positions are given to less qualified men, and are fired or resign after complaining about such alleged illegal treatment. Being purposely excluded from new opportunities may constitute workplace bias and gender discrimination if you are fired from a job because of an alleged corporate restructuring or downsizing, are not rehired several months later following the termination and learn that a less qualified male was offered your position. Consult an experienced employment attorney for advice where warranted.
It is also illegal for companies to use advertising that denies women a chance to apply for a job or screening procedures that eliminate female applicants because the requirements are too demanding (e.g., requiring a college degree for secretarial work). No longer can women not be considered for physical jobs, nor is it lawful for employers to refuse jobs to women because they think that their turnover rate is higher, they take more sick leave, or they may become pregnant. As mentioned in Chapter 1, any questions to women regarding their families or childbearing plans are illegal. In certain cases the law is also making it easier for women to claim that the reason they were passed over for a promotion, such as not being made a partner in an accounting firm, was their gender and not their work performance (which is sometimes offered by employers as a pretext). Speak to a lawyer for more details.
Be aware that numerous cases of women winning large verdicts for sex discrimination have been reported. For example, a major oil company reportedly agreed to pay more than $8 million to settle a class action filed by 777 female employees who claimed they were discriminated against in terms of pay, promotions, and assignments. In another case, a judge upheld a $7.1 million sex discrimination jury verdict against a company after the plaintiff successfully alleged that senior managers removed her accounts she had helped build and gave them to male brokers. After 12 years with the company, the woman was accused of poor productivity and fired. The verdict included a $5 million punitive damages award.
A large grocery retailer reportedly agreed to pay $81.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit by 150,000 women who accused the big grocery chain of relegating them to dead-end, low-paying jobs. The settlement applied to all women who worked at any of its stores in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama since 1981. The suit was brought in 1995 by eight women who accused the employer of passing them over for raises and repeatedly denying them management jobs. They and four others who quickly joined the case said they watched as men with less experience and less seniority got promotions. Some said their requests were met with unwanted sexual advances from managers. The EEOC later joined the suit, and it was expanded to a class action covering past and current employees.
Although the settlement is the largest involving supermarket chains, another company reportedly paid $107 million to 14,000 women to settle similar allegations, and a different employer reportedly settled for $7.5 million in a sex discrimination suit covering 20,000 employees in California.
In a suit against a well-known insurance company, $250 million was reportedly paid to women who said they were denied or deterred from positions as insurance agents. And a well-known retailer faces a similar challenge from more than 20,000 current and former female employees who filed a class-action lawsuit claiming the company’s personnel structure is set up to limit their access to sales jobs and supervisor and manager positions. The lawsuit claims women are placed in positions with fewer opportunities, while men are given jobs with greater advancement potential. The suit also alleges a pattern of sexual harassment and unequal pay. And recently a major university agreed to salary hikes and payments totaling more than $300,000 to several female professors who were illegally paid less than male professors of the same rank.
When a recently fired female employee consults with me, one of the first things I consider is whether she was fired because of gender. For example, I initially ask if the company has a history of laying off predominately more senior female executives than male executives.
Suppose a company fired a sixty-year-old salesperson because she wasn’t meeting quota. Although that sounds like a legitimate reason, the employer may be committing sex discrimination if its sales were down in many of its territories and younger, male salespeople were not fired but merely given a warning or placed on probation.
Suppose a female worker was fired for lateness. In such a case, careful investigation might reveal that male workers with the same records of absences and lateness were merely warned but not fired. What if a female employee was fired in retaliation for complaining that she did not receive the same benefits as her male counterparts? If this is proved, illegal discrimination may have occurred.
Although this section stresses gender-based discrimination problems, other forms of discrimination, including age, race, national origin, disability, and religious discrimination may also be involved, because women who assert sex discrimination claims after a firing are often victimized due to other personal characteristics.
For a full depth analysis on this topic and many more, visit http://legalstrategiespublishing.com/ to purchase “The Employee Rights Handbook” today!