As we usher in a new year, many will remember 2020 as a year of significant challenges. In the arena of employment law, we recognize that America’s workplaces have long been plagued by discrimination and harassment. In the last 20 years, virtually all of the country’s biggest companies have paid to settle at least one claim of sexual harassment and/or discrimination. That’s according to Good Jobs First, and bear in mind: Those are only the cases that were publicly reported.
Federal and state laws prohibit sex-based harassment and discrimination. Despite this, companies in the U.S. still only pay women $0.082 on average for every dollar men are paid. Black women are paid even less. This wage gap has budged very little since 2000.
The U.S. EEOC in 2019 received more than 70,000 complaints of discrimination on the basis of sex, age, religion, race and disability. More than 7,500 complaints of sexual harassment were made during that time.
One positive thing about 2020 was that it gave further rise to the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements, empowering workers to increasingly turn to courts for employer accountability for violations of civil rights, discriminatory work practices and work environments. Some of those claims over last three years have involved huge companies paying multi-million dollar settlements in cases that made big headlines.
Here, we take a look back at the highest profile sexual harassment and gender discrimination cases of 2020.
Amazon. Amazon was hit with numerous employment lawsuits in 2020. In February, a former manager in charge of hiring sued after she says her boss asked her to comb applicants’ Facebook and Instagram accounts to glean information about their race and gender. When she complained, she says, she was fired. The company was also accused of harassment and retaliation after demoting and later denying promotion to a transgender man after he revealed his pregnancy.
Bloomberg LP. The media company was accused of allowing the longtime and widespread sexual harassment of ex-CBS host Charlie Rose. Eight women worked for or aspired to work for the host in the 90s, 2000s and 2010s. Rose’s show aired on both PBS and Bloomberg TV. Although some of the plaintiffs in the case against Bloomberg have already settled with CBS, they allege Bloomberg was complicit. Rose owned his own production company, but operated within Bloomberg headquarters. Many operations for Rose’s company (including payments and benefits) were managed by Bloomberg. The employees now suing Bloomberg say they were jointly employed both by Rose and Bloomberg, a point likely to be hotly contested.
Disney. A gender-based pay discrimination lawsuit filed in 2019 is still ongoing, and was joined by several other former employees last year. Ten executives in all allege rampant gender pay discrimination as of March 2020. The newest claim alleged that her $75,000 starting salary at the company was far less than a male colleague’s starting salary. She further alleged she was passed over on promotions, given smaller raises on average and dissuaded from discussing gender discrimination complaints with the CEO by a top female executive.
FOX News. Former host Ed Henry was accused of a violent sexual assault of a former producer. Another employee alleged Henry sexually harassed her, as did several other high-profile hosts. The network was reportedly made aware of these claims, but did nothing to intervene or stop them. Henry is no longer employed by the network. It was just a few years ago that the network settled with Gretchen Carlson for $20 million over claims of sexual harassment by the company’s former chairman, Roger Ailes.
Goldman Sachs. A former employee accused one of the company’s top lawyers of sexually harassing a female subordinate. When the employee complained about it, the company allegedly engaged in a cover-up and retaliated against her, according to her lawsuit.
Google. Former employees of the company sued four years ago over gender pay disparities. In 2020, they asked a judge to expand their case to allow nearly 11,000 more workers to join. The four original employees who sued alleged women at the firm are paid on average $17,000 less than men in similar roles and with similar experience.
Hearst. A former executive at Esquire Magazine (a subsidiary of Hearst) alleged she was a victim of gender and age discrimination by her former boss. The 52-year-old claimant said her boss routinely mocked women – particularly older women – at the company and that she was retaliated against for complaining about it.
Johnson & Johnson. A former high-ranking executive who had worked for the company for 25 years sued, alleging years of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, abuse and retaliation on the basis of both her gender and sexual orientation.
McDonald’s. The fast food favorite is facing claims of racial discrimination and sexual harassment. In April, employees filed a $500 million sexual harassment class action lawsuit against the company, alleging abuse and harassment from both customers and coworkers. Later in the year, Black ex-franchisees allege the parent company set them up for “financial suicide,” prodding them to open stores in locations that were less profitable, subjecting them to more stringent inspection standards than their White counterparts and giving White franchisees better opportunities – and ultimately resulting in the number of Black franchisees by half.