Recently, it seems, class action lawsuits against employers are getting bigger. Firms that in representing plaintiffs are targeting companies with class action litigations, in particular lawsuits alleging gender discrimination. These lawsuits allege gender discrimination against a few women combined with evidence designed to show a pattern of discrimination against women throughout the company to create a plaintiff class. The key component to the lawsuit is seeking the broadest possible class by including in the class as many female workers in the company as possible.
The impetus for these lawsuits is a recent class action alleging gender discrimination in which the plaintiffs won a $250 million jury verdict, most of which consisted of punitive damages. In that case, the plaintiff class consisted of female sales representatives who alleged that they were denied promotions, paid less than male employees, and subjected to a hostile work environment. Ultimately, the case settled for $175 million, and based on this result, the plaintiffs’ firm received approximately $38 million.
Following the result in this lawsuit, firms have launched new class actions against large well-known companies for damages in excess of $100 million dollars. These lawsuits assert, among other things, that women were denied promotions and paid less than their male counterparts, management had a preference for men in leadership positions, women are too emotional to serve as leaders, or women who are pregnant have no role in the company.
Although the filing of a discrimination lawsuit is not within an employer’s control, as always, employers should be vigilant in scrutinizing how employees are paid and promoted and to take steps to insure that the company is hiring, paying, and promoting employees in a nondiscriminatory fashion.