Lawyer Files Gender Bias Suit Against GE

A high-ranking lawyer fighting her demotion has sued General Electric, accusing the company of gender discrimination. The lawsuit alleges that GE pays female lawyers and women in entry-level executive jobs less than it does men in similar positions.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

A high-ranking female executive at General Electric is suing the company for gender discrimination. Laureen Shaffer(ph), the general counsel at GE's transportation unit, said the company refuses to promote women and often pays them less than men. GE is promising to fight the suit.

NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI: In her lawsuit, Shaffer says she started at GE 13 years ago and gradually worked her way up the ranks. She amassed what she says what an exemplary work record and eventually became the highest ranking legal employee in the transportation division, which makes among other things - locomotives. Shaffer says she loves GE and expected to be promoted to the senior executive ranks.

Then this year, a group of GE executives including Chairman Jeff Immelt came to Pennsylvania where she worked and met with the unit's president John Denim(ph), and after that meeting, Schaffer says, she was suddenly demoted.

Ms. LAUREN SHAFFER (GE Employee): And a very surprising move to me. I learned in late April that all of the men had decided that I would be taken out of the General Counsel law because John Denim wanted to replace with a big time GC.

ZARROLI: What does that mean, a big time GC?

Ms. SCHAFFER: I think that's a fabulous question. And I don't know.

ZARROLI: Shaffer says she still doesn't know why she was demoted, and no one at the company was available for an interview today. A spokesman told Reuters that Shaffer's demotion was based on the merits. But Shaffer says her performance evaluations were uniformly good. And she thinks the real reason she was demoted is that many GE executives simply don't want to see women in senior executive positions.

For that reason, she's filed a class action suit on behalf of 1,500 female employees of the company.

Ms. SCHAFFER: Based on my personal experience, and many, many conversations with other women across that company in my 13 years - attending women's network events, formal and informal - I know that what the corporation has done to me, happens all across that company in the executive ranks.

ZARROLI: Shaffer says the numbers speak for themselves. None of the major GE subsidiaries is headed by a woman, and besides Shaffer, there's only one other female general counsel. GE released a statement today saying it worked hard to promote and encourage diversity. It said Shaffer's own career was proof of the opportunities available to women.

Since she announced plans to file her suit, Shaffer has been on paid leave from GE, forbidden to enter company property. She notes that GE is widely seen as one of the best-run corporations in the world and its management practices are studied by business schools. The reputation is deserved, she says, but GE needs to address the way it treats women.

Ms. SHAFFER: What I want to result from this lawsuit is that - same type of rigor be applied to the treatment of employees and equality of treatment of employees within that corporation.

ZARROLI: This suit comes days after the U.S. Supreme Court set new limits on the ability of workers to sue for pay discrimination. The court said workers who feel they're discriminated against have 180 days to file suit against their employers. Shaffer's lawyer says her case isn't affected by that ruling because she filed suit just weeks after her demotion.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.