- Performance Food Group agreed to pay more than $5 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that since 2004 it failed to hire women, the agency announced Dec. 16.
- The five-year consent decree settling the legal action forbids Performance Food Group from failing to hire women for positions such as driver and requires that the employer hire a vice president of diversity, among other things.
- "Women continue to be excluded from traditionally male-dominated industries and occupations based upon misconceived and outdated notions about their abilities," Maria Salacuse, EEOC Assistant General Counsel, said. "The EEOC will pursue class-wide litigation to eliminate discriminatory barriers that women face in the workplace — especially in the hiring process."
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employers from discriminating on the basis of gender in several aspects of employment such as hiring, promoting and firing on the basis of gender. The EEOC said in the statement announcing the Performance Food Group settlement that "eliminating barriers based on sex or other protected characteristics remains an EEOC enforcement priority."
Still, many women in the workplace say they have experienced discrimination, including gender bias. Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults in a 2019 Deloitte survey said they had experienced bias in the workplace within the past year and the report noted that the top biases that respondents said they saw most often were age, gender and race or ethnicity.
Such alleged bias has ended in major settlements in recent years. An Alaska gold mine agreed to pay $690,000 to settle an EEOC sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought by a female miner who was denied promotions while male colleagues with less seniority or training were promoted. In another instance, Sherwood Food Distributors paid $3.6 million and agreed to offer jobs to 150 women to settle an agency lawsuit alleging that it discriminated against female applicants at its Cleveland and Detroit warehouses when it refused to hire women for entry-level jobs.
Employers can help prevent gender-based discrimination claims by adopting anti-discrimination policies and training those involved in hiring and management. Experts have said that managers and supervisors are a leading cause of discrimination claims. A robust reporting system that includes taking complaints seriously and conducting good faith investigations, when necessary, can help, experts have said.
After examining gaps that may exist in training, policies and procedures, HR can take a look at corporate culture, especially in male-dominated industries and occupations, and with buy-in from management, develop business ethics and conduct that support a diverse workplace, according to experts.