“Strength of Character” Needed to Survive Pay Discrimination LawsuitJune 05, 2013
Author’s note: The following blog post tells a story of gender pay inequity — a situation we hear about too often at AAUW. I have presented the story as told to me by the information technology professional and have not independently verified the facts of the case.
A New York IT professional’s fight for fair pay began five years ago when she got a bad mark on her performance appraisal — shortly after her supervisor made a sexually inappropriate advance.
She had worked for the company for about 25 years when her review noted that she had interpersonal skill problems because she did not get along with difficult people. The IT professional, who asked that her name not be used, said that she didn’t understand the criticism.
“It just surfaced. It didn’t make sense,” she said. “If you’re going to say that about me, I want details.”
So she pursued it — through human resources, then a workplace advisory council, and the diversity manager — and found the details to be conflicting and elusive. The diversity manager gave her — the only woman in her part of the company — five minutes and didn’t investigate.
“The more I pursued it, the nastier they got,” she said.
During her quest for answers, she realized something else astounding: She hadn’t been promoted in more than 20 years, and her raises weren’t that great. Her male counterparts made significantly more than she did.
“I wasn’t really paying attention,” she said. “Women get busy with our lives, with our kids. We’re juggling a lot. I had two kids and a sick father. I just lost track, not realizing how bad it had got and trusting the company that I worked for to do the right thing.”
As she moved forward with her complaint, the supervisor who had been sexually harassing her came to her office and tried to bully her for complaining. She said he grabbed the phone out of her hand and slammed it down when she tried to call for help. She managed to escape her office and go to human resources, but even with a witness who heard everything, HR didn’t investigate, she said. They just moved her under another male supervisor — her department had zero female supervisors out of seven — and asked her old supervisor to take a workplace policy class, she said.
As all of this was happening, the IT professional learned that a recently hired man with far less experience and documented poor work performance had been promoted over her.
After two years of internal grievances and still no answers, she filed a complaint of sexual discrimination and retaliation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“The infrastructure for protecting women is really lacking,” she said. “The EEOC is so backlogged. You have to ask yourself: Why is the EEOC so backlogged? It is cheaper to pay for the silence of the few women who figure it out and sweep them under the rug as if nothing happened rather than pay all women equal compensation for the same work done by their male counterparts. Businesses are not held accountable, so you have a large volume of complaints going to the EEOC.”
Her EEOC complaint became a lawsuit after she felt she was left with no choice and had to step up. During the deposition, the attorneys for her employer “tried every dirty trick in the book to try to intimidate me,” she recalled, her voice breaking. She said they used information that violated her HIPAA rights.
“They tried to make me sound crazy, and when you go through this you really start to believe it,” she said. “You need strength of character and a really good support system to make it through with some semblance of sanity. I cried a lot, and then I cried some more.”
Her complaint ultimately ended when she accepted a judgment for monetary damages, which she said she did because she didn’t want her story to be swept under the rug with a nondisclosure agreement.
Since then, there have been some positive changes for women at her company but not enough to ensure that what happened to her will never happen to any other woman there, she said. She is still being paid significantly less than her male co-workers and said she shares her story with anyone in a position to help her make a difference for women working at her company.
“When you go through the process, you realize how many rights you really, really don’t have,” she said.