This month, Merck was hit with a $100 million sex discrimination suit alleging that the company engaged in systemic gender bias, reports Fortune. “The complaint could be used in a law school as a way to teach virtually every gender-based claim that could possibly be brought against an employer.
“The case includes many allegations of discrimination against female and pregnant employees, and staffers who chose to take family-medical leave. The suit also claims that Merck engaged in discriminatory promotional and payroll practices. And the case also includes less tangible “Boys’ Club” allegations, which have become increasingly common in gender bias cases.
“In particular, the complaint against Merck alleges that “male junior employees have opportunities to socialize with male senior management to the exclusion of women. Female employees are excluded from these events, and thus excluded from opportunities to develop relationships with senior management that provide opportunities for advancement within Merck due to the company’s ‘tap-on-the shoulder’ promotion policies …”
“But Merck is far from alone. In a 2011 paper, Holland & Hart’s John M. Husband and Bradford J. Williams list private employers who have settled class actions in the tens — or even hundreds — of millions of dollars, noting that it “reads like a who’s who of Fortune 500 companies.” Many, but not all, involve sex discrimination.
“Class actions are not going away. First, there are plaintiffs’ lawyers who focus on class actions. Let’s face it: That’s where the money is for many lawyers. Indeed, there are some plaintiffs’ lawyers who specifically focus on Fortune 500 companies.
“Second, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in its strategic plan, has prioritized eliminating systemic barriers in hiring. This priority will unavoidably focus on the way employers give out promotions too.
“It is highly likely that the EEOC’s approach will involve more and more class action suits because companywide or systemic issues almost always involve a group of employees. It is probably no accident that the most recent EEOC commissioner appointee is an attorney with significant class action expertise.”