More than 2,300 female Goldman Sachs’ employees received good news last month when a federal judge gave them the green light to push forward a sexual discrimination lawsuit as a class action. It’s taken eight years for them to win the right to certification of the class action, which allows female associates and vice presidents to sue together and increase the potential for more substantial awards without unnecessary legal costs.
In her 49-page decision, U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan said the plaintiffs provided “significant proof” that Goldman Sachs paid female vice presidents 21 percent and associates 8 percent less than their male counterparts. She wrote that Goldman Sachs was “aware of gender disparities and gender bias,” but did not adjust its policies.
Considered one of the highest-profile cases targeting Wall Street’s alleged unequal treatment of women, the case has had a long and circuitous history through the court system. In 2010, Christina Chen-Oster, a former vice-president in the equities unit, and Shanna Orlich, who worked in the firm’s fixed-income unit as an associate, sued the bank, claiming that it systematically discriminated against women in both pay and promotions.
Chen-Oster, who spent eight years at the firm and became a vice-president before leaving, alleges that she was denied a fair performance review, fair pay, and promotion to Managing Director, because of her gender. In a recent New Yorker article, she describes an incident in 1997, when members of her department went to Scores, a topless dance club in Manhattan, to celebrate a colleague’s promotion. Later that night, a married male associate ended up “pinning her against a wall, kissing and groping her, and attempting to engage in a sexual act with her.”
The next morning, he “apologized profusely” and asked her to keep quiet about the incident. Chen-Oster eventually reported the groping to her supervisor, but he took no action, the lawsuit claimed. Her Goldman career was derailed, while her attacker became a partner and his salary increased by 400 percent.
Orlich, who began working at Goldman Sachs in 2006 as a summer associate, contends that during her time at the firm she received an unfair performance review and lower pay because of her gender. She also reports a culture that is “hostile to women.” There was the time a Vice President invited every man in her department to attend a golf game but not Orlich, despite having played varsity golf in high school.
The ruling also excerpts the multiple complaints, emails, and other documents that detail evidence of disturbing behavior at the company:
• Sexual harassment: “I told [a male co-worker] how it made me uncomfortable how the guys were touching me, and he was really supportive and giving me advice on what to do, and the next thing I know, his hand is on my ass, too!”
• Sexualization: managers made comments that women are “no good after [age] 27.”
• Physical endangerment: male manager followed female employee into her room during a firm retreat, tried to get in her bed, and did not leave until she was able to lock the door.
• Private verbal abuse: “How did the bitch session go?”
• Public verbal abuse: head of Private Wealth Management told his female assistant she would be a “trophy wife” once she marries.
• Slander and libel: male employee perpetuated a rumor that a sex tape of him with an unidentified woman was actually of him and a female co-worker.
• Gender favoritism: “I have to compensate the men better. They are heads of households.”
• Pregnancy stereotyping: “During my pregnancy, Goldman Sachs removed my duties and took away my assistants. I was told that I would be transferred to a department of one person me with no advancement opportunities.”
• Motherhood stereotyping: “At one point my boss suggested that I might want to speak with the women’s committee and go into a job that would not be as demanding” because of my new role as a mother.
• Denial of employment opportunities: “Since returning from maternity leave for my second child, I have never again been nominated for promotion despite a record of achievements. [My manager] said he would be ridiculed if he [supported me].”
• Retaliation: “[After I raised complaints of gender discrimination, [my manager] questioned my ‘work ethic’ and said I was not working hard enough.”
Torres said the class action will not include the claim that Goldman maintained a “boys’ club atmosphere” where women were allegedly subjected to unwanted stereotyping, harassment and retaliation. She said this was because “individual” rather than “common” issues would predominate.
A spokesperson for Goldman Sachs said the company believes the claims have no merit and there isn’t any basis for certifying a class action. “We will continue to contest them in court.”