April 4 is Equal Pay Day, an annual event that shines the spotlight on the continuing wage gap between men and women. While women make up nearly half of the workforce, they must work more than a year and three months to earn what a man earns in a year, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Last year, women were paid 80 cents for every dollar men earned. And the pay gap is worse for women of color.
Equal Pay Day also serves as a reminder that the EEOC has made fighting pay discrimination one of its six strategic enforcement priorities. Last month, the EEOC announced a $300K settlement with Nestlé Waters North America to resolve allegations of discriminating against a longtime manager because of her gender.
According to the EEOC, the bottled water company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it passed over Dawn Bowers-Ferrara, a business and finance manager with 20 years’ experience, in favor of a much less qualified male. Nestlé then terminated Bowers-Ferrara because of a “consolidation” of sales zones in Florida.
However, she was the only zone manager – and the only woman – to lose her job as a result of the “consolidation.” The other 14 zone managers and supervisors were all male, the EEOC said.
Company must train on sex-based discrimination
In addition to the $300,000 in monetary relief to Bowers-Ferrara, Nestlé will provide her with a year of outplacement services. The Stamford, Connecticut-based company is also required to develop and implement an anti-sex discrimination policy and to provide annual training on all forms of sex discrimination, including sex stereotyping, to its bottled water managers and employees in Florida.
Nestlé must also post notices about the settlement in its Florida facilities and report to the EEOC bi-annually on its progress in complying with the consent decree, including its handling of complaints of sex discrimination.
“Women in the workplace deserve to advance as far as their talents and abilities take them without having the artificial barrier of sex stereotypes forced upon them,” said EEOC Tampa Field Director Evangeline Hawthorne.
Unfortunately, gender bias in the workplace continues to be prevalent, despite being unlawful for over 50 years. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 12% of women say they have been overlooked for a promotion or other opportunity because of their gender, versus 5% of employed men. The survey also reported that 17% of women in the workplace believe they have been denied a raise because of their gender. By contrast, only 4% of working men felt that way.
Allegations of discriminating against a longtime employee because she is a woman and treating her less favorably than her male co-workers resulted in a costly experience for Nestlé. News of the settlement may also damage the global brand’s reputation, which can impact its financial health and hinder its ability to attract and retain the most skilled employees.
As the Nestlé Waters lawsuit and other recent cases illustrate, organizations can expect the EEOC to continue its enforcement focus on gender-based pay and promotion practices that discriminate against women – and other protected classes. In addition to complying with Title VII and state and local laws, organizations can address gender bias and stereotyping by fostering a culture that actively values diverse talent and offers everyone opportunities for advancement.
Preventing Discrimination and Harassment training is another important way to help change employee attitudes and behavior and reduce the risk of violations, while demonstrating an organization’s commitment to ethical values and standards.