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Male culture can be factor in sex bias case

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

If your workplace appears to be dominated by men—especially at the highest levels of the company—then that could hurt your efforts to defend against a sex discrimination lawsuit. Fortunately, all other factors being equal, it won’t be a game-changer.

Recent case: When Stacy failed to win a big promotion at First National Bank of Omaha, she quit—and filed a sex discrimination lawsuit.

The former vice president of loan operations, Stacy has an MBA degree and more than 20 years of experience in her field. She and a male co-worker (who had 10 years of experience with First National, but no advanced degree) were the top two candidates to become senior vice president of operations when their mutual supervisor decided to retire. As part of the succession process, that supervisor created a matrix of the characteristics he considered most important for success. Stacy came in second to her co-worker.

In her lawsuit, she argued that the male-dominated culture at First National Bank was evidence of sex discrimination. During the relevant time frame, only one of 15 executive officers, and one of 12 of directors, were female.

The court said that male domination may be a factor, but that in this case, the selection process itself wasn’t discriminatory. Employers can determine which factors to emphasize in promotions as long as none are obviously discriminatory or are used as a cover for discrimination.

Other than the male/female ratio in management, nothing else indicated that the factors considered in promotion were manipulated to maintain that ratio. (Cox v. First National Bank, No. 14-3077, 8th Cir., 2015)

Final note: Be sure you can explain both the subjective and objective factors you consider when making hiring and promotion decisions. Courts don’t want to have to second-guess your motives.

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