Can a male manager refuse to put a woman in a management position?
An employee, Connie, sought a promotion to a position vacated by her direct supervisor, Kenny when Kenny was promoted to a Manager position. When she learned of Kenny’s promotion, Connie told her supervisor that she wished to be considered for Kenny's vacated position. But instead of promoting Connie, her supervisor, Dave, selected another employee, Mike, to fill the vacated position. Dave said that he chose Mike over Connie because the company had a priority transfer practice (“PTP”), as a means of transferring employees to vacant positions instead of laying them off.
Connie felt that she was discriminated against her because of her sex and filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging sex discrimination.
The EEOC found cause to believe that the employer discriminated against her because of her sex, and when the employer did not agree to a settlement with the EEOC, the EEOC filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against the employer. The case went to a jury trial, at which the following evidence was presented to the jury:
By his own admission, Dave could have promoted Connie even though he was presented with a PTP candidate. Dave testified at trial that the PTP imposed no mandatory hiring and that he retained discretion in deciding whether to hire Mike. Dave also acknowledged that he could have exercised his discretion by promoting Connie and moving Mike into Connie’s vacated position. The evidence at trial showed the feasibility of this option: several witnesses testified that Connie was well qualified for the promotion. Kenny and another supervisor testified that Connie was an exceptional employee who could have easily met the job’s demands. Mike himself testified that Connie was more qualified for the job than he was. But despite Connie’s expressed interest and qualifications—and Dave’s discretion to promote her—Dave told her that he “was never going to” promote her to a supervisor position.
Dave also had a history of bias against women. Multiple witnesses testified at trial that Dave treated female employees differently than male employees. He spoke to female employees less often, acted standoffish toward them, and asked other supervisors to manage them so that he did not have to do so. But most importantly, trial testimony connected evidence of Dave’s general bias against women with his specific decision not to promote Connie. Kenny testified that after he was promoted he recommended Connie for his vacated position, and Dave’s response was that he “would not put a woman in a management position.”
The jury found against the employer and awarded the EEOC and Connie back pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages after finding that Connie’s employer, discriminated against her because of her sex, by denying her the promotion in favor of Mike, a male employee.
After the jury verdict, the employer filed a motion asking the Court to reject the jury’s decision. The court denied the employer’s motion as to liability, but granted it as to the jury’s punitive damages award. Both sides appealed and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (controlling in Florida) affirmed the lower court’s decision. EEOC v. Exel, Inc., 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 6629 (11th Cir. Mar. 16, 2018). The above "facts" came from the reported decision.
This case demonstrates how a company was legally liable for the improper actions of one manager. This case reminds Florida business owners to not only train HR staff, but also to train managers about discrimination.
This recent case reminds Florida employers that the sex discrimination is still a problem in the workplace. If you need any assistance with training your managers or implementing your handbook/policies, or in conducting an investigation into alleged discrimination, please email the Law Office of David Miklas, P.A. or call us at 1-772-465-5111.
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