Breaking the Tech Glass Ceiling: Legal Considerations

The Tech Glass Ceiling is Killing My Career. Is It Worth It To Sue?

 The tech industry is known for its unique innovation and rapid fire delivery of seemingly endless digital inventions and updates. It’s also becoming well-known for its rampant sex discrimination and glass ceiling culture.

Suing Under the Tech Glass Ceiling

Discriminatory practices in any industry can be a recipe for disastrous, and costly, lawsuits. The male-dominated tech industry is no exception. The recent flurry of lawsuits against tech companies, mostly from women claiming gender bias and discrimination, is a key indication that discrimination in the tech world is fast becoming a significant threat to the industry itself.

Yet, the industry may not be ready, just yet, to come to grips with this problem. Nationally, gender bias and discrimination charges filed with the EEOC have been on the rise since 2014. Only about two percent of these charges have been unsuccessful – an indication that sex discrimination is not only a tech industry issue; it’s a national problem. Such factors create a climate of complacency for employers, and threaten the careers of employees.

Laws that Govern the Glass Ceiling

At the federal level, a number of laws govern sex discrimination in the workplace and state laws, too, offer workers protection in this area. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act – even the Americans With Disabilities Act, all offer employees federal protection against gender bias and sex discrimination.

At the state level, workers can expect the same types of legal protection from workplace discrimination with, in most cases, even greater coverage of the law. For instance in California, the FEHA, which covers companies with five or more workers, ensures that workers are protected against sex discrimination in employment decisions, sexual harassment and even retaliation.

These laws work to grant relief in industries where the proverbial glass ceiling prevents fairness and equality in the workplace. Women working in predominantly male-dominated industries can rely on these laws to hold employers accountable for decisions based on bias rather than the fairness all workers should expect.

Is it Worth It to Sue?

Even if a worker is aware of the laws governing the workplace when sex discrimination is an issue, many women may be reluctant to actually sue their employers. This is because taking on a lawsuit is a huge endeavor that could be a gamble for anyone’s career. Many women have worked hard to achieve their current career goals and may be reluctant to risk losing the progress they’ve made.

However, when circumstances become intolerable, women workers choose to sue. This can raise questions about remedies available and the types of compensation a successful sex discrimination suit can bring.

In fact, remedies for a sex discrimination suit cover a broad range of compensation types, from lost wages to reinstatement. It’s important to note that a sex discrimination suit in the tech industry, and other industries as well, turns on the employee’s ability to prove that an employer is responsible for discriminatory practices that led to adverse action, such as a failure to hire, termination or a failure to grant a promotion.

Once discrimination is successfully proven, there are still further limitations to the types of relief available. For instance, if the worker is claiming a loss of compensation, he or she must be able to prove that the losses came as a direct result of the discrimination.

The employee party to a sex discrimination suit may also be entitled to injunctive relief. This means getting the employer to stop a discriminatory practice or policy, such as a policy that tends to place men in position for promotions more often than women. This type of relief can even halt discriminatory policies while a case is proceeding in court.

Other “make whole” types of sex discrimination remedies include reinstatement. This means that an employer may be forced to reverse a worker’s termination if it’s found to violate discrimination laws. The same applies to discriminatory demotions, promotion refusals, or other employment practices found by a court of law to be unlawful. The employer could be forced to change any decision found to violate legal prohibitions against sex discrimination.

Recovering Monetary Damages for Sex Discrimination in the Tech Industry

Some workers may be motivated to sue if they know they’ll be able to recover monetary damages. In fact, sex discrimination suits can enable workers to recover out-of pocket expenses, lost wages, back pay, even damages due to emotional distress.

These types of damages, including damages for emotional pain and suffering, are termed compensatory damages, and it’s important to note a few limitations in this area. Discrimination laws place caps on compensatory damages. These caps are usually based on the size of the company being sued. For instance, for companies with fewer than 100 employees, the limit on compensatory damages is $50,000 and for companies with 101 to 200 employees, the limit is $100,000.

Intentional and Willful Sex Discrimination in the Tech World

At times, a discrimination lawsuit involves the type of discrimination that warrants punitive damages. These types of damages are in order when an employee proves the discrimination was intentional and willful.

Proving willful sex discrimination involves proving that an employer acted with knowledge of sex discrimination laws, but chose to act or make decisions in reckless disregard of these laws. In these situations, the same caps that apply for compensatory damages also apply for punitive damages.

Is it Worth Is to Sue for Sex Discrimination in the Tech Industry?

Deciding whether it’s worth it to sue for sex discrimination in the tech industry, or any other industry can be a tough and risky decision. An experienced employment law firm may be the best resource for advice and insight into legal options as well as information about protecting your career. Turn to a discrimination attorney with experience in addressing the complex particulars of your case, including the various types of remedies available, for the most  successful outcome.

Manuela Varela

Relations Manager

Manuela Varela has been with Shegerian & Associates since August 2022. She is responsible for outreach and marketing on behalf of the firm and manages relationships between firms and referring attorneys. She is also responsible for developing business opportunities and affiliations. Manuela graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Economics and Political Science.