- A former account executive at Indeed alleged in a lawsuit filed May 18 that the company engaged in gender discrimination by failing to address a sexual assault allegation and allegedly refusing to promote her based on her complaint (Gilbert v. Indeed, Inc., et al., No. 20-CV-03826 (S.D.N.Y. May 18, 2020)).
- The company had a relaxed attitude toward sexual assault and workplace biases against women who did not participate in happy hours and sexual relationships with older male co-workers, the complaint alleged. The lawsuit claimed "a misogynistic culture in which women are viewed and treated as sexual objects" and a lack of company action after a manager allegedly raped the plaintiff in her hotel room following an alcohol-fueled, company-sponsored event. The plaintiff also alleged she was passed over for promotions and other opportunities, and continued to experience unwanted sexual advances in the workplace, without any support or intervention from managers or company HR.
- The complaint, which named a human resources manager among other defendants, requested a jury trial. In a statement provided to HR Dive, Indeed said it was "deeply disturbed" by the allegations when it learned about them in November 2019, adding that the manager accused of rape was placed on leave as soon as the company was aware of the criminal complaint and is no longer part of the company. "Indeed is proud of our culture of inclusion and belonging, and our long track record of leadership development and promotion through merit. We categorically disagree with the complaint's characterization of our culture, which is offensive to our thousands of employees who have grown their careers at Indeed through hard work and results."
Despite recent heightened awareness of such issues in workplace, most Americans believe sexual assault remains a widespread problem.
Many organizations lack the culture to prevent, or even discourage, problematic behavior and, as the plaintiff in this case noted, most workers don't feel that they can speak out about gender discrimination. A recent Zenefits study found that one-fifth of workers don't trust HR and 30% "actively avoid" going to HR. Of those who avoid going to HR, 31% said they feared retaliation.
Even the most well-heeled, seemingly progressive employers appear to have problems controlling toxic, misogynistic cultures. Many major tech companies such as Uber, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and media companies like CBS, NBC, FOX and The New York Times have faced claims that they protect men found to be engaging in predatory behavior. Vox, which has had similar internal issues, compiled a database of those across industries that were the subject of sexual harassment, assault or other misconduct allegations at the height of the #MeToo era.
As these problems go unchecked, it can lead to major liabilities both legally and in the hit to a company's brand. McDonald's was recently on the receiving end of a $500 million class-action lawsuit in federal court and continues to face criticism and legal action around the globe an alleged "pattern of sexual harassment and gender-based violence."
Experts say employers facing such issues must first make it known that misconduct will not be tolerated and take action against offenders. From there, better and more regular training can help increase awareness, and also acknowledge the role that front-line managers play in making sure misconduct is reported through the proper channels.
There are also technology solutions aiming to address this problem, primarily those offering employees anonymous channels to report misbehavior, though they have had mixed results. Ultimately, it may be up to organizational leadership to make clear that it will take action against misconduct and prioritize strong ethics and compliance programs.