Why women shouldn't settle sex discrimination claims out of court

Employers should have their day in the dock if they sideline women.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 23 Feb 2016

Sonia Pereiro-Mendez. Credit: Mark Thomas/REX Shutterstock

Yesterday Goldman Sachs and Sonia Pereiro-Mendez reached a confidential out of court settlement just as her sex discrimination case was about to really get going. The London-based senior banker was due to play conversations she had secretly recorded with her managers in court, as part of allegations the investment bank had cut her salary and denied her millions in bonuses, particularly after she became pregnant.

It’s not surprising the mother of two, who had worked for Goldman since 2003, took whatever it offered. ‘We are pleased this matter is resolved,’ the bank, which claimed the pay cuts were down to poor performance, said in a barely-there statement. We bet the Vampire Squid was falling over itself to stop its entrails from being exposed.

Pereiro-Mendez, nor any other discriminated-against woman or minority for that matter, shouldn’t be judged personally for not pushing a no doubt extremely stressful case to the wire. But to make the playing field completely level more of these claims have to have their day in court, so culpable employers are well and truly dragged through the mud of their own misogyny.

The gagging orders that go along with these settlements lather on the layers of silence surrounding sexism in the workplace. It is extraordinarily difficult to speak up about discrimination, no matter how thorough your company’s official diversity policies are. But it is doubly difficult when no one else is standing up and it can feel like you are the only one going through something like that.

The male-dominated US tech sector was severely rattled last month by Ellen Pao’s discrimination case against her former employer, Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. After all, it’s hard to ignore a problem when it’s splashed across every news website and front page worth their salt.

When the result was handed down #thankyouEllenPao trended Stateside and a group of women took out a full page San Francisco newspaper ad that simply read, ‘Thanks Ellen.’

Pao had lost – but not in the court of public opinion. We need more like her on both sides of the pond.

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