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Gender Discrimination

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Your supervisors probably understand that they can’t pay a male more than a female to perform the same job or dole out promotions only to males. What they may not appreciate are the more subtle forms that gender discrimination may take. They may not make an effort to scrutinize their decisions to uncover any entrenched patterns of discrimination and practices that discourage women from applying for promotions or asking for raises.

Even if you’re not looking for patterns, be aware that plaintiff’s attorneys are. Take one disgruntled female and one contingent-fee employment lawyer, add some discovery, and you may face a class action lawsuit. Every year, at least one major employer settles a class action filed on behalf of its female employees.

In a highly anticipated ruling in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court said a huge lawsuit on behalf of 1.5 million female Walmart employees cannot proceed as a single class-action case. Experts say the important ruling will make it more difficult for employees to band together in giant class-action cases against employers. (Walmart v. Dukes, No. 10-277)

The Walmart decision reversed a ruling by the 9th Circuit that gave the green light to the class action by current and former female employees who claimed Walmart consistently promoted men over women and paid men more for similar work. The issue in the case wasn’t whether the company discriminated, but whether such a large group could link together in a class action. The Supreme Court said the plaintiffs’ claims didn’t have enough in common to be banded together into a single case.

Three major federal laws outline how you must treat female workers: the Equal Pay Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Civil Rights Act. Together, they provide a great deal of protection for women in the work force.

While sexual harassment is the gender issue that makes the most headlines, many employees, especially those with young families, are more concerned with balancing home and work. Many employers have attempted to address work/life balance issues through flexible scheduling, family leave, on-site day care facilities and the like.

Unfortunately, making life easier for families may also lead to resentment among employees who are single, childless or have already raised their families. This may lead to unconscious discrimination, especially among managers who may believe they’ve already paid their dues and risen in the ranks while juggling family/work schedules without help from their employers or entitlement programs such as the Family and Medical Leave Act. The result may be less overt discrimination.

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