CLASSIC EXAMPLE OF SEX-PLUS DISCRIMINATION

by Art Gutman Ph.D., Professor, Florida Institute of Technology

In a settlement announced by the EEOC with Denver Hotel Management Co., the company agreed to a $105,000 settlement for failure to promote Renate Rivelli for sex-plus discrimination in promotion. The landmark case in sex-plus discrimination is the Supreme Court’s ruling in Phillips v. Martin Marietta (1971) [400 US 542]. In the Phillip’s case, Martin Marietta’s manufacturing workforce was 80% female. Therefore the company felt safe in excluding from hire mothers of preschool children on grounds that they are more likely than other women to be tardy or miss days of work. However, the Supreme Court struck down the policy because it did not apply the same principle to fathers of preschoolers. Thus, the violation was sex plus parenthood. There have been few such cases in recent years, so the Denver Hotel case should serve as a reminder of what sex-plus discrimination is.

In the Denver Hotel case, Rivelli was denied a promotion to assistant human resource director, allegedly in favor of a less qualified and less experienced employee. Rivelli was passed over because of her role as a mother of young children. According to the EEOC, she was told she could not relocate or work the required 50-60 hour workweek because she “had a full-time job at home with her children.” The EEOC filed the complaint because the company never asked if she would be willing to relocate or work extra hours. As part of the agreement, Rivelli was placed on paid administrative leave, with benefits from December 6, 2010 through August 28, 2011.

Although rare in recent times, it is easy to fall prey to this violation. For example, a few years ago, I was consulting with a local police department on the interviewing process for hiring new officers. One of the panelists asked a female applicant how her husband and children felt about her wanting to be a cop. The problem here is that none of the panelists asked the parallel question of male applicants in relation to their wives and children.

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