Dell in $500 million discrimination lawsuit

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Four former senior Dell HR executives, all of them women, have filed a class action lawsuit that accuses the company of gender and age discrimination – alleging that the company targeted women and employees over the age of 40 in its plan to lay-off 10 percent of its staff worldwide, or 8,800 employees in total.

The women, being represented by law firm Sanford Wittels & Heisler, want to “change Dell’s discriminatory policies regarding pay, job placement, promotion, and termination. The lawsuit demands $500 million in damages for a class of thousands of current and former Dell female managers and executives, and older employees disproportionately affected by the company’s mass layoffs in 2007 and 2008,” according to a press release.

This joins a second, separate case launched last week in Texas, claiming that Dell prevented women to be promoted to senior positions in the company. This lawsuit is also filing for the lawsuit to become a class action lawsuit – meaning that any Dell, or ex-Dell, employee can join in the lawsuit.

Full press release can be found after the jump.

Top Female Human Resources Execs at Dell, Inc. File Gender Discrimination and Age Layoff Class Action

Seek $500 Million in Damages, Changes in Pay & Promotion Policies Set By All Male 14-Member Leadership Team Headed by Michael Dell

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 29 /PRNewswire/ — Seeking to put a stop to the spate of recent layoffs unfairly targeting women and employees over 40, and gross pay and promotion inequities at Dell, Inc., four former high-level female Human Resources executives today filed a class action discrimination suit against the company in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California.

The four senior HR women accuse the world’s second largest computer manufacturer of systemic discrimination in blocking women across the company from breaking into the top ranks of what a Dell male Vice-president, Michael Summers, calls the "old boy networks in Dell." The plaintiffs, who as HR specialists are intimately familiar with the company’s employment practices, seek to change Dell’s discriminatory policies regarding pay, job placement, promotion, and termination. The lawsuit demands $500 million in damages for a class of thousands of current and former Dell female managers and executives, and older employees disproportionately affected by the company’s mass layoffs in 2007 and 2008.

The four plaintiffs and the class are represented in this matter by Steven L. Wittels, David W. Sanford, and Janette Wipper, who head teams of lawyers from Sanford Wittels & Heisler’s San Francisco, Washington, D.C.and New York City offices.

"While Dell publicly proclaims a commitment to diversity as ‘an essential element of our corporate values,’ the reality fails to live up to the rhetoric," said Mr. Wittels, Class Counsel in the case. "At Dell, it is an understatement to say that women face a glass ceiling; Dell’s glass ceiling is made of concrete."

According to Dell’s own website, the company is headed by an exclusively male fourteen-member Executive Leadership Team. This team recently engineered mass layoffs of more than 8000 employees, which the suit claims singled out women and older employees. While recent statements by Michael Dell suggest the layoffs are over, plaintiffs claim the damage is done as Dell’s upper-management ranks have swelled to approximately 80 percent male.

In an email to Bethany Riches, a former senior HR Manager and plaintiff in this case, her VP supervisor Mr. Summers told her not "to assume it’s about you" if she had problems "breaking into arguably one of the toughest old boy networks in Dell." Later, the same executive informed Ms. Riches that she had no further prospects of advancement at the company. Ms. Riches and the other women routinely held the same positions and handled the same responsibilities as higher-ranking and better-compensated male executives,yet were repeatedly denied promotions promised to them by Dell.

Another plaintiff, former senior HR Manager Mildred "Jan" Chapman,noted that at Dell’s request she sold her family’s home in Houston,relocated to Austin, and turned down other good job opportunities in order to secure her initial position with Dell. A year later, she was asked to manage compensation and global benefits for over seventeen-thousand employees in nine-countries, but even though her responsibilities equalled or exceeded those of younger male Directors, she was repeatedly denied a promotion to Director or any pay increase. Despite Dell’s assurances of job security, Ms. Chapman, age 59, was included in Dell’s April 2008 layoff.

As a result of Dell’s discriminatory treatment, each of the plaintiffs lost more than a million dollars in projected salary-increases, promotion grants, and short and long-term incentive awards.

"Dell well knew that its recent mass layoffs unfairly impacted older people and women," said Ms. Wipper, a member of the plaintiffs’ legal team."The effect of the firings on top of denying these women fair compensation and promotional opportunities has not only had an emotional toll and a negative economic impact on their lives, but with each passing year continues to act as a black mark on their future employment prospects."

The suit alleges that Michael Dell along with others on the 14-member Executive Leadership Team and other senior male executives carried out and/or assisted the discriminatory acts described in the complaint. See http://www.dell.com/content/topics/global.aspx/about_dell/company/leadership/executive_team?~ck=ln&c=us&l=en&lnki=0&s=corp.

"I have suffered from discrimination, and unfortunately I am not alone," said Ms. Chapman. "It’s my fervent hope that this lawsuit will serve as the necessary catalyst for creating much needed and long overdue change at Dell."

Mr. Sanford, Class Counsel for the plaintiffs, added that the case will be won on the statistical evidence the plaintiffs offer at trial. "The numbers don’t lie," Mr. Sanford said. "Once Dell produces its pay,promotion, and layoff records and statistics, we are confident the truth will come out and our clients’ claims of discrimination will be vindicated."