When just one woman complains that she had been treated unfairly because of her sex and doesn’t have much direct evidence to prove the contention, courts often throw out the case.
But when several other women come forward to disclose similar problems they have seen in the workplace, chances are a jury will get to decide whether there was sex discrimination or retaliation.
Recent case: Lisa Kirby, who worked for the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department, once complained that she had been sexually assaulted by a jail sergeant.
The sergeant resigned. Later, Kirby complained about unequal treatment.
About that time, she was disciplined for allegedly violating a safety rule—she allegedly let officers under her instruction take off their bulletproof vests at the shooting range. She sued, claiming the discipline was retaliation for her earlier complaints.
The employer said she couldn’t prove sex discrimination because there was only her word that she had been treated differently.
But Kirby brought in several other female employees, who said that men got preferential shifts and assignments, and that men who complained about problems weren’t punished, while women were. That was enough for the court to order a jury trial. (Kirby v. Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department, No. 1:07-CV-566, WD MI, 2008)
Advice: If an employee is threatening litigation, try to find out whether others who belong to the same protected class might support her claims. If so, it may be time to settle.
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