The Mask of Corporate Procedures for Sex Discrimination

Many employees call company hotlines to report problems anonymously.  Many companies have hotlines that work well and guarantee anonymity.  They can be a useful tool for Human Resources but a question arises of what is done with the information once it’s provided to the people inside.  The attorney who represented Gretchen Carlson in her sex harassment lawsuit against Fox News, was quoted as saying that making use of the hotline also introduces the risk that an employer can gather valuable information before an employee has attorney representation.

It has been reported in the media that Sterling Jewelers has had several complaints of women calling their TIPS hotline to report sexual harassment and then being chastised by a human resources associate before then being fired a couple weeks later.  On February 26th, the statements of hundreds of former employees of Sterling Jewelers were released.  The statements are part of a class-action case that includes 69,000 current or former employees accusing Sterling of pay discrimination against women.  Many women in the class-action suit described situations where people got promotions for being friends with the boss or even sleeping with the boss, but not because of job postings.  They argued that the lack of promotions helped contribute to lower wages for women.  It is alleged that Sterling managed the promotions by a “tap on the shoulder” policy where managers picked the people they liked rather than publicly posting job openings.   Although the company has denied any wrong-doing, the 1,300 pages of documents provided in the case give insight into how some widely used corporate procedures can hide problems that women often face in the workplace.  The potential for retaliation that arises with the hotline is an example of this.

Another corporate procedure that may mask the problems women face is a “no-suing” policy.  Since 1998, it was reported that all employees at Sterling have had to agree that they will never sue the company.  They have an internal dispute system that can escalate to an arbitration hearing, which is where the class-action case is currently.  The good thing about the internal dispute system is that a lot of problems get solved but if the disputes become legal claims, employees who used the in-house program can be at a disadvantage.  Employers fight hard when employees have tried to bypass the in-house Resolve rules and file claims in court.  In 2004, a female employee of Sterling claimed that she had witnessed the rape of her roommate by a Sterling manager at an annual resort outing sponsored by Sterling.  They fired the man, who pleaded no contest to sexual battery, but the employee who brought the claim said the company set out to investigate, intimidate and discredit her and the assault victim after the company got notice that the victim might sue the firm.  They then fired her saying she withheld information in the investigation of the rape case.  She then sued Sterling, accusing them of wrongful termination, retaliation and invasion of privacy.

Wages should be based upon skill, performance, and merit, not gender.  Gender harassment is illegal and not acceptable in the workplace.  If you feel that you are being paid less for accomplishing the same work product as your male counterpart or sexually harassed at your job, you might have legal recourse.  Speak to an attorney to find out how you might be protected and to help you file a charge with the appropriate reporting agencies. Our attorneys are experienced at litigating employment law claims, as well as representing employees in the administrative processes through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as well as state and local government human rights commissions in both the private and federal sector, and state and local equal employment commission and merit system boards. Henrichsen Siegel has decades of experience in employment discrimination law.  If you feel you have been discriminated against contact us through our website’s submission form.

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