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Few women on staff? Watch for hostile-Environment claims

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employers could violate the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) even if they don’t intend to discriminate.

Having few women in your work force or in certain positions opens the door to sex-discrimination lawsuits. If a woman can show she has few female co-workers and they don’t seem to have the same opportunities as men, she’ll likely win her suit if she can prove that a reasonable woman in her position would consider the situation a hostile-work environment.

Recent case: Dawn McDonough, one of just a few female officers working for the sheriff of Salem County, filed a sex-discrimination complaint. She alleged that she had been unfairly denied a K-9 officer’s position in favor of a less-qualified male. McDonough told the court that there were few female officers and all been denied the training and promotion opportunities that male officers received.

The court ordered a trial, concluding that the lack of female officers and the allegation that they had been denied training and advancement was enough to warrant a trial. A jury will decide if a reasonable woman would find the environment hostile. (McDonough v. Cooksey,  No. 05-CV-00135, DC NJ, 2007)

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