Labor & Employment

EMC Accused of Bias Against Female Reps

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EMC Corp. has become a market leader in sales of data-storage systems with the help of hard-driving salespeople. But some women say the male-dominated sales environment was less than hospitable, and even discriminatory.

Former saleswomen have filed at least six sex discrimination suits since 2003 against the company alleging unequal pay and opportunities, the Wall Street Journal reports. Some women complained of a locker-room atmosphere in which salesmen visited strip clubs and got accounts that were unfairly transferred from female salespeople.

A federal judge in Chicago is scheduled to decide on Sept. 17 whether one of the suits (PDF posted by the Wall Street Journal) should be certified as a class action. The Chicago plaintiffs allege that their manager engaged in “profanity-laced and gender-based tirades” and told one woman that she was not being placed on a big account because she didn’t “smoke, drink, swear, hunt, fish and tolerate strip clubs.”

The Chicago suit contends that EMC hires and retains too few female employees, creating an atmosphere that some experts say is conducive to bias. “Hostile environments for women tend to occur where they’re dramatically in the minority,” lawyer Gillian Thomas of the women’s rights group Legal Momentum told the newspaper.

The company says 13.5 percent of its sales force is female. By way of comparison, the percentage is 40 percent at IBM and 25 percent for all high-tech employees in the last 2000 census.

EMC says it has never condoned sexual discrimination or harassment. Pay and account decisions are based on merit-based differences in employees’ work and customer feedback, the company says. Marketing chief Frank Hauck adds that he refused to reimburse salesmen for strip club visits when he took over in 2001.

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