Lawsuit Highlights Pitfalls of Gender Bias in Promotion Decisions

A recent lawsuit filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) underscores the need for companies to not base promotion decisions on an employee’s gender, especially if said employee is pregnant!

In the case, the EEOC claimed that a female employee at Maryland-based Dimensions Healthcare System was discriminated against after the company chose to promote a less-qualified male employee to a management position. Further, this man had less than two years of entry-level experience with the company and had previously been disciplined for attendance issues. The plaintiff, meanwhile, had been with the company for more than seven years, two of which was spent as a team lead experiencing managing several team members and performing various human resources tasks. However, the plaintiff had also been out on maternity leave from January to April 2014.

According to the EEOC, Dimensions vice president, Judy Selvage, told the plaintiff that they had considered her for promotion but she had been “on maternity leave for a while.” In fact, as part of the case, the agency suggested that evidence unearthed as part of the investigation suggested that Selvage had a pattern of discriminating against women who took maternity leave.

As part of a two-year consent decree reached in the case, Dimensions Healthcare System will pay $125,000 to the plaintiff and is also enjoined from failing to promote based on sex. In addition, the company will revise its job posting and internal transfer policy to implement a clear, non-subjective promotion policy and make clear that the healthcare provider does not discriminate based on sex, pregnancy or maternity leave. In addition, the company’s HR department is required to monitor for compliance, as well as provide anti-discrimination training to all managers, supervisors and HR reps.

Bottom line? Select for promotions based on employee performance, not on employee gender!