Sex Discrimination

Ellen Pao’s sex discrimination case against venture capital stalwart Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers continues among allegations of discrimination based upon her being too aggressive or not aggressive enough, depending upon whose review of Pao is believed. Most followers of the case agree that neither Silicon Valley nor the venture capital industry look good in this case, which is clearly showing that men dominate the industry, many men are paid far higher salaries than women, and the accepted norm is to engage in arrogant, egocentric behavior.

Sexual discrimination and employment cases are becoming more prominent. In 2012, there were almost 100,000 EEOC complaints filed with about 2/3 of those alleging racial or sexual discrimination. With the onslaught of baby boomers in the workplace, it is likely that age discrimination claims will rise in the next few years.

Alabama, like most states, is an employment at will state. This means that your employer can terminate you for most any reason, unless you are in a protected class and the employer terminates you because of your classification in that class. The most common classes are race, gender, and age but pregnancy, religion, disability status, and national origin can also be considered protected.

If you have been terminated from your position and think it is because you are a member of one of these “protected” classes, you should file a complaint with the EEOC within the specified time. The anti-discrimination laws give you a limited amount of time to file a charge of discrimination. In general, you need to file a charge within 180 calendar days from the day the discrimination took place. The 180 calendar day filing deadline is extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. The rules are slightly different for age discrimination charges. For age discrimination, the filing deadline is only extended to 300 days if there is a state law prohibiting age discrimination in employment and a state agency or authority enforcing that law. The deadline is not extended if only a local law prohibits age discrimination.

Another area highlighted by Pao’s claim is equal pay. Pao is claiming that men in the same or a similar position at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers were getting paid more than she was. The Equal Pay Act requires that men and women in the same workplace be given equal pay for equal work. While the jobs do not have to be the exact same, but they must be substantially equal. Substantial equality is determined by job duties, not job titles. All forms of pay are covered by this law, including salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing and bonus plans, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, cleaning or gasoline allowances, hotel accommodations, reimbursement for travel expenses, and benefits. If an inequality exists, the employer cannot reduce the salary of the higher paid employee but, instead, must increase the compensation of the lesser paid employee.

If you think you’ve been a victim of an EPA violation, you may go directly to court and you are not required to file an EEOC charge beforehand. The time limit for filing an EPA charge with the EEOC and the time limit for going to court are the same: within two years of the alleged unlawful compensation practice or, in the case of a willful violation, within three years.

Inequality in the workplace has been occurring since the beginning of time and likely will continue for the foreseeable future. However, that still does not make it fair or legal. If you have been the victim of discrimination, either because you are in a protected class or because you were not being paid the same as someone else with the same or substantially the same job, visit a lawyer with experience in employment matters. The only way to establish equality in the workplace is to raise awareness of the inequalities and hold people accountable that are responsible for the existence of those inequalities.

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