Glass-ceiling lawsuits, in which women or minorities claim they're prevented advancement beyond a certain point, are tough to prove, but not impossible. If an employee can show a pattern of discrimination, your organization could pay big.
That's why it's wise to study the fairness of your salary and promotion structures annually to make sure they're not putting any artificial limits on women or minorities. Consider using outside consultants.
Recent case: Jane Sires hoped to earn a "local leader" position at her company, so she often took on her boss's duties during his absences. When her boss left, the position went to a male salesman with little tenure. Sires concluded that she'd hit a glass ceiling and resigned. She filed a sex discrimination claim, and the state supreme court sided with her, awarding her $94,000 in back pay and $21,000 in front pay.
The damning evidence? Of the company's 13 "local leader" jobs, all were filled by men, so the court said the discrimination was "broader" than just one staffing decision. That essentially meant Sires was "foreclosed from a career path, not simply deprived of one promotion." (Van Meter Industrial v. Mason City Human Rights Commis-sion, Iowa, No. 107/02-1161, Iowa SupCt., 2004)