Have you been the victim of artificial barriers in your employment which have prevented you from receiving the promotions and salary to which you are entitled? Have you felt that, as a woman, you have been allowed to advance only so far in your company, despite your proven abilities? Have you stood by, helplessly, and watched as male and other non-minority co-workers have been promoted past you? If your responses to these questions were affirmative, you are not alone.

What is a Glass Ceiling?

“Glass ceiling” is a term that describes the artificial plateau, beyond which women and other minorities are denied the opportunity to advance to upper levels of executive management in corporate America. It encompasses the situation in which an employer relies on gender stereotypes in making employment decisions such as promotion and pay.  The employer then permits those prejudices to infect personnel decisions, which might include situations where the employer leaves pay and promotion decisions in the hands of a mostly all male managerial workforce, who uses arbitrary and subjective criteria in making such decisions. Additional barriers to the advancement of female employees may include the company’s requirement,  as a condition of promotion to management jobs  that employees be willing   to relocate. In situations with such a requirement, there is a risk that  managers will act on the assumption that women, because of their services to husband and children, are less mobile than men.

It has become a routine practice to deny thousands of qualified women the top-level jobs, merited by their performance. A 2011 government report found that women now hold approximately 44 percent of the positions in both professional and administrative occupations, but despite this, women still only account for roughly 30% of the top-level corporate and executive positions. The study likewise found that women remain a distinct minority in occupations with a median salary of $90,000 or above.

The “glass ceiling” barriers toward women are nothing but an insidious form of sex discrimination, in violation of law. The purpose of this article is to raise the consciousness of both women and corporate America to the prevalence of this practice, and to summarize the steps that should be taken by victims of this practice

How Can Job Discrimination Be Put to an End?

 In its efforts to reduce employment barriers faced by women and other minorities, the United States Government has experimented with a number of different methods. Prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,   the government relied on voluntary action by employers, with no evidence of any success. The major change wrought by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was to allow private litigation. This was greatly expanded by the Civil   Rights Act of 1991, amending the former act. These acts allowed every potential victim of discrimination to be both a monitor of employment practices and a means of enforcing compliance.

Large Jury Verdicts May Be a Deterrent

 In recent years, where victims of discrimination have been able to prove the requisite intent to discriminate, they have obtained record settlements and judgments under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Such judgments demonstrate the concern by juries of the continuation of “glass ceilings” in American companies. Experience has shown that the most efficient method of changing unlawful employment practices is to make such practices cost-prohibitive. The 1991 Civil Rights Act is on the road toward accomplishing that objective through the collective voice of juries across the country.

What is Sexual Harassment or Discrimination?

 It takes the form of favoring advancement of males over females, or paying more to males than females, when the qualifications are substantially equal. Sexual discrimination is any harassment or other unequal treatment of an employee or group of employees that would not occur but for the sex of the employee or employees. If the treatment follows a sufficient and pervasive pattern, it may comprise an illegal condition of employment under Title VII. Contrary to the mistaken belief held by many people, sexual harassment, or other unequal treatment of an employee or group of employees that occurs because of the sex of an employee, need not take the form of sexual advances or of other instances with clearly sexual overtones,

There are two distinct types of sexual harassment prohibited by Title VII. One is quid pro quo harassment where one’s employment benefits are conditioned upon engaging in sexual activity. The other is hostile environment sexual harassment. This involves conduct that on an objective basis, creates an abusive work environment. Examples would be a pervasive pattern of different treatment of women, comments derogatory to women, or display of sexually oriented objects. In both cases the activity must be unwelcome and objectionable to be violative of Title VII. Claims of gender discrimination are evaluated in the context of the employment environment and whether the employee contributed to the problems of which complaint is made.

How to Prove a Hostile Environment of Sexual Discrimination

 A claim alleging “Glass Ceiling” discrimination is, in essence, a claim of the existence of a hostile environment, demonstrating a pervasive pattern of discrimination against women. In the Tenth Circuit, a claim for hostile work environment requires proof sufficient for a rational jury to find that the workplace was permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult, or unequal treatment of females in terms of promotion and pay, and which was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the employment and create an abusive working environment. This standard is designed to filter out complaints attacking the ordinary tribulations of the workplace, such as the sporadic use of sexual jokes, and occasional teasing, and, thus, to prevent Title VII from becoming trivialized as a civility code.

Proof of ‘Glass Ceiling’ Discrimination

 Whether this standard of proof is met requires consideration of the totality of the circumstances, including: “(1) the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; (2) the severity of the conduct; (3) whether the conduct is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and (4) whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with the employee’s work performance. In addition, the environment must be both objectively and subjectively hostile or abusive.

“Glass ceiling” cases are difficult to prove. It is equally difficult to establish the necessary pattern of discrimination. It is the rare plaintiff who will be able to prove, with corroboration, that a company executive has stated that a woman is not moving ahead because of her sex. Most cases are dependent on circumstantial evidence, which examines a number of different factors, such as derogatory statement toward women, men,  or minority employees, which are pervasive, in the workplace, and comparison of qualifications between the non-promoted woman and the successful male candidate. You need to examine your job situation in light of the laws against sexual discrimination, and see if facts exist which raise questions in your mind as to whether “you have gone as far as you can go” only because you are a woman.

If you suspect that you have been a victim of “glass ceiling” discrimination it is critical that you promptly contact an experienced employment attorney for an opinion. There are serious time limits to bringing such actions, and valuable evidence may be lost with the passage of time.

How to Preserve your Title VII Claim

 In order to obtain the right to sue in Federal or state court you must  first file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That charge must be filed within 180 days of the alleged act of discrimination. Many states, such as Colorado, have a law which prohibits sex discrimination in employment and authorizes a state agency to grant relief. In such cases, the charge must be filed, with the  EEOC, within 300 days of the last act of discrimination, or sooner in certain instances. If you do not file an EEOC charge within the required time period, you will probably be prevented from further pursuing your rights. A lawsuit on a sex discrimination claim must be filed within ninety days of receipt of a Right to Sue Letter from the EEOC. If the EEOC has not completed its investigation in the 6-month period following the filing of the charge, you may request a Right to Sue Letter. Failure to follow the required time periods may cause you to lose your rights to seek a remedy for sex discrimination under Title VII.

Because of the intricacies of the various time barriers, it is most important to consult with an experienced employment lawyer, who will be able to guide you through this maze. I make this recommendation despite the fact that you do not need a lawyer to file a charge with the EEOC. However, my experience has taught me that it may be a serious mistake to try to  proceed on your own, even as to the initial filing of a charge. If you fail to include certain allegations, you may be prevented from bringing them up in   a later lawsuit.

Amount of Recovery

Under Title VII, an employee who has been a victim of “glass ceiling” sex discrimination, or a gender based hostile environment, may recover back wages and benefits, that would have been earned, but for the failure to promote, reinstatement to the position to which she should have been promoted, front pay, if reinstatement is not possible, compensatory damages for emotional trauma, and attendant physical suffering, punitive damages, attorney fees and court costs. Depending on your individual circumstances, you may be entitled to additional recoveries under state, rather than Federal, law.

Find a Denver Employment Lawyer Near You

There are many more intricacies involved with “glass ceiling” and sex discrimination cases than have been discussed in this article. Learn more about protecting your rights by contacting us today. Attorney Nathan Davidovich practices employment law in the state of Colorado, and he is available for consultation on any matters arising in the State of Colorado.

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