What do you need to build a good sex discrimination case?

A friend of mine is looking hard at filing a sex discrimination lawsuit.

She has been with a company for several years. She started out as a graphic artist, and is now the de facto head of the art department. She has no title, but she is the one who interviews potential new hires. She is the one who keeps their network of computers running for the graphics department. She is the one the administrators go to for advice on whether or not they need new equipment and what to buy. (They don’t always get what she requests, but when they do get something, it’s what she requested.) She’s the one the administrators go to when they want to implement new procedures in the art department. She’s the one the other artists go to for advice about getting their assignments done right, probably because she’s the one who trains new hires.

One of her new hires has been on the job for about two months. He is a competent and industrious guy, but not a graphic genius and not as notably competent or industrious as my friend. He doesn’t have any special skills or qualifications in his background that make him more qualified than my friend. But it has become very obvious that the administrators are grooming him to be named the actual, titular head of the art department in the near future, with a nifty pay raise to go with the title.

What does he have that my friend doesn’t? A “Y” chromosome.

This company has already been hit by a sex discrimination lawsuit, so they probably are not going to be too blatant on paper about their reasons for promoting this guy over my friend. So my question is, what does my friend have to do in the way of documenting things to make a good, strong case for herself? And, does she have a good case? To me it seems open and shut, but you never know when it comes to the law. Can anybody who’s had some experience with sex discrimination suits, especially as the plaintiff, help out here? Is there a website with some clear info (i.e., not in legalese?)

EEOC guidelines

In a nutshell, she needs to document everything that she believes indicates she is being discriminated against because of her sex. “He has a Y chromosome and I don’t” isn’t evidence. Has she approached management about being given the title and pay appropriate to her job functions? What was management’s stated reason for not doing so? If she really thinks she is being discriminated against then she needs to speak to a lawyer sooner rather than later.

I’m with Otto on this one. Document everything – especially things like performance reviews – and make sure that she’s being cited for all the good things she does! This could be a case (although it doesn’t sound like it) of someone who is a badass, but too meek to point it out vs. an idiot who blows his own out-of-tune horn.

If she thinks her reviews accurately reflect her performance, then she should spend about a week putting together a case for herself to present to management. To show real managerial acumen, she might even come in the door with a plan for what should be done with what’s-his-name. “I’ve noticed Jim is a real straight-shooter, too, and I’d like him to be my right hand while he gets the experience he needs to move into a leadership position.”

Present the argument as:

  1. Here are all the good things you agree that I do well
  2. I am ready to move up to a more challenging position
  3. I am the person in the office best qualified to move into that position

I would like to say one thing and hope it isn’t a hijack.

It is easy to get new responsibilities in a company, especially a smaller company.

It is much harder to actually get a title and salary increases to go with those new responsibilities.

What could be happening is that management is allowing her to do all those things because she isn’t asking for a title/money for doing them.

I say this because I have seen this happen to both men and women. It happened to me in fact.

IMO, it may be to late for your friend but what I think is the thing to do is to accept responsibilities when the present themselves. However, after you are doing them and doing them well to approach management an ask for title/promotion/salary increases using information available about average salaries for the area based on your new responsibilites. If they refuse (and many times they will or respond with less than stellar increases) then keep doing the new responsibilities gaining experience until you can leave and get a ‘real’ position with your new experience.

I’ve known several people that have climbed out of low level positions by doing exactly this. One guy started out as an assistant report writer making about $20K a year. A database analyst quit and he lept on the opportunity. No way they would have considered him for the position but he stayed late helping out and quickly picked things up. By the time they got the hiring off the ground they were getting more comfortable with him and put him on about half/half assistant report writing and database work…with minimal pay increase. After a year he was doing it full time and they hired another assistant report writer.

He did that for three years, getting more and more upset, until he got the nerve to demand fair-market wages…which were almost triple what he was making. They counterered with five grand. So he did a job search and landed his same position at a much higher salary.

So…did your friend ever officially ask for more money and a title?