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As in-house counsel, you are probably well aware of the risks to the company if gender discrimination is allowed to take place. One might assume that large companies have rules and systems in place to prevent any kind of widespread gender discrimination. But as a recent lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New York demonstrates, that's not always the case.
"Goldman Sachs Sued," was the headline in the financial world Wednesday. The firm is being sued by three women who formerly worked for the firm. The women allege rampant gender discrimination, where men receive significantly higher pay and more promotions. The lawsuit alleges violations of state and federal gender equality laws. The women are seeking class action status on behalf of an unknown additional number of women who were also discriminated against in what they call a "pattern and practice" of discrimination based on gender. They seek recovery for lost wages as well as emotional distress and humiliation. Goldman has denied the gender discrimination allegations.
The plaintiffs are H. Cristina Chen-Oster, former vice president in Goldman's convertible bonds department; Lisa Parisi, former vice president and later a managing director in the firm's asset management division; and Shanna Orlich, a former associate in the capital structure franchise, The Associated Press reports.
The plaintiffs claim that Goldman gives its male mangers the discretion to assign responsibilities to other employees. The managers in turn give the best assignments, which provide opportunities for promotions and more pay, to men. These kinds of allegations are nothing new, Wall Street financial firms have long had a reputation for an alpha-male environment filled with rampant sexism.
Now would be a good time to take a look around your company and make sure that you are not violating any gender discrimination laws. Do some digging. Ask questions and be proactive. Having policies in place and offering sensitivity training are great, but sometimes that alone is not enough. A lawsuit for gender discrimination can expose your company to huge risks, both financially and to the company image. Better to be vigilant now than to find yourself fighting a multi-million dollar case down the road.