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Women in Tech: Making Progress for Workplace Equality

According to a recent article in CNET, Qualcomm just agreed to a $19.5 million settlement in a sex discrimination class action lawsuit involving around 3,300 women who are currently employed or were formerly employed by the tech company. The chipmaker company agreed to this large settlement, in addition to enacting new policies to limit gender discrimination in the workplace.  The settlement is a positive step forward for women in the technology industry and all those striving to eliminate sex discrimination.

Debate continues regarding the un-level playing field that women in the tech industry continue to face. A popular book this year labeled the disparity the “Elephant in the Valley,” identifying many areas where the industry needs improvement, from promotion, feedback, to incorporating motherhood. In addition, reports suggest a shocking level of sexual harassment,  perhaps affecting as many as 60% of all women in the industry. This latest settlement is an encouraging sign in acknowledging the problem and continuing the debate.

Details of the Qualcomm Settlement

The lawsuit arose when plaintiffs alleged that “women at Qualcomm make less than men,” and that women “were promoted less frequently than the men who work beside them as a result of employment policies, practices, and procedures.” In addition, the class action complaint alleged that working mothers were not treated equally, as policies at Qualcomm required “24-hour responsiveness” and created a “culture that rewarded working late,” which served to penalize working mothers who had caregiving responsibilities at home.

The plaintiffs in the class action recently won a $19.5 million settlement from the company. Yet the settlement is not only about the monetary compensation. To be sure, “as part of the settlement, Qualcomm will also implement new policies to ensure that women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) roles have equal job opportunities.” Although Qualcomm has not admitted to the allegations in the complaint, it is among the first of such cases to result in a settlement for the plaintiffs. The settlement occurred during pre-suit analysis, which means that it came in prior to the class action being filed in federal court.

As the article makes clear, sex discrimination claims, particularly in tech professions, have tended in the past to go in favor of the employer. For instance, the former CEO of Reddit, Ellen Pao, lost a somewhat similar case last year. In that case, Pao had accused the venture capital firm where she worked of “discriminating against her in the course of her employment and eventual dismissal.” However, while Pao was not successful in her lawsuit, her actions did help spur a significant debate about discrimination in the workplace.

And Pao’s alleged experience is certainly not an isolated incident. To be sure, a report from Fast Company asserts that 60 percent of women they surveyed in the Silicon Valley area had been sexually harassed, with up to 90 percent of them witnessing sexist behavior at company offsites and/or industry conferences.

In addition to women having difficulty winning similar sex discrimination claims, tech companies simply are not hiring large numbers of female employees. And according to CNET, those “low diversity numbers . . . get even lower as positions become more senior.”

As such, the settlement is very good news for women who believe they have been discriminated against in a similar manner. Indeed, the article notes that the $19.5 million settlement “represents a giant leap forward toward leveling the playing field” and that it “can serve as a model of best practices for other technology companies.”

Sex Discrimination at Work

As a brief reminder, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) makes clear that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of sex in any and all aspects of employment, including:

  • Hiring decisions;
  • Firing decisions;
  • Pay rates;
  • Job assignments;
  • Promotions and demotions;
  • Layoffs;
  • Trainings;
  • Fringe benefits; and
  • Any additional terms or conditions of a person’s employment.

If your employer has discriminated against you based on sex, including if you have not received equal pay for equal work, you may be able to file an employment discrimination lawsuit. An experienced employment discrimination attorney can assist with your claim. Contact Scott Wagner and Associates, P.A. to discuss your case.

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Florida 561-653-0008 California 213-377-5200
* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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