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People's Law Guide


Gender Bias: Not Limited To Sexual Harassment



      Although sexual harassment lawsuits frequently make headlines, many claims brought by workers involve other, less publicized types of gender bias.

Equal Pay for Equal Work

      The Equal Pay Act, a federal law, prohibits employers from engaging in gender bias in pay rates.  This law applies to all governmental employers and covers nearly all employers, including most employers too small to fall within the jurisdiction of federal and Florida workplace discrimination laws.  The law carries significant weight, in that courts are required to double the size of employee lost wages, except when employers prove that they acted in “good faith” when violating the laws provisions.

Unequal Treatment

      Federal and state laws require employers having 15 or more workers to avoid letting gender influence their staffing decisions.  In South Florida, jurors determined that Tampa Airlines fired Marilyn Serrano, a security guard, on the basis of her gender. Serrano complained that her employer lightly punished male employees for their serious misconduct but fired women for minor misdeeds. Jurors also apparently believed Serrano's denial that she had driven a customer's vehicle without permission. Jurors awarded Serrano $40,500 for lost wages and emotional pain and suffering. Later, jurors provided an additional $50,000 in punitive damages.

Pregnancy Bias

      The Pregnancy Discrimination Act went into effect in 1978 to reduce employer prejudices against expectant mothers. Twenty years later, pregnant women continue to be at high risk for job bias.

      A restaurant manager in Kansas claimed the eatery she worked at demoted her when learning she was pregnant and fired her when she refused to perform newly assigned lower level duties. Jurors obviously disbelieved her employer's contention that the demotion stemmed from a limit on the number of hours the pregnant waitress was medically permitted to work. Jurors voted to award the former waitress $43,000 for her emotional pain and suffering, $10,320 for her lost wages and an additional amount for punitive damages.
Winning At Trial

      With a 57% win rate at trial, workers have a favorable win - loss record over employers, according to LRP Publications' research conducted from 1988 through 1995. Interestingly, workers suing for pregnancy discrimination enjoyed the highest likelihood of winning their cases, with a 65% success rate. Persons bringing sexual harassment claims won 53% of their trials and women suing for gender bias were successful in 48% of their trials.

      Awards for emotional pain and suffering and lost wages averaged $106,702 in gender bias verdicts, $87,500 in pregnancy discrimination verdicts and $38,500 for sexual harassment verdicts. The study did not review outcomes of pre-trial settlements, which typically are kept confidential.

Work Hurdles for Women

      Despite employment gains enjoyed by female workers, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission statistics confirm that women continue to experience bias in the workforce. Over 30% of all the job bias complaints filed with the agency involve complaints about unequal treatment, pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment or reports of unequal pay.

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