In gender bias suit, Goldman Sachs must disclose employee complaints

Goldman Sachs & Co. will have to provide most of the internal complaints requested by women in a federal class-action suit accusing the investment company of gender discrimination.

U.S. District Judge James C. Francis IV, of the Southern District of New York has ordered the company to provide internal complaints from members of the proposed class, including redacted documents, and some complaints lodged by non-class members.

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The materials will provide the plaintiffs with anecdotal and additional evidence in their attempt to show a pattern of disparate treatment of women by Goldman Sachs, the judge said, generally rejecting the company’s argument that the requested information was not relevant.

“Courts typically apply more ‘liberal civil discovery rules’ in employment discrimination cases, giving plaintiffs ‘broad access to employers’ records in an effort to document their claims,’” Judge Francis said.

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In a post on the Seyfarth Shaw Workplace Class Action blog, attorneys Gerald L. Maatman Jr. and Howard M. Wexler, who were not involved in the case, discuss the ruling’s impact on employers.

“Discovery battles in high-stakes employment discrimination class actions are costly, contentious, and oftentimes can serve as a ‘game changer’ that alters the entire landscape of a case,” the post says.

Corporate culture favors men, suit says

Three women filed the class action in 2010 alleging Goldman Sachs discriminates against female employees with respect to compensation, promotion and performance evaluation.  The company’s corporate culture favors men over women, the suit says.

The women seek to represent all female associates, vice presidents and managing directors at Goldman Sachs’ four revenue-generating divisions: securities, investment banking, investment management and merchant banking.

In July the plaintiffs filed a motion to compel the company to provide the following documents in discovery:

•             All internal complaints from members of the proposed class related to compensation, promotion or performance evaluation even where gender discrimination was not specifically alleged.

•             Unredacted copies of the internal complaints.

•             Internal complaints related to unfair treatment filed by female employees who are not members of the proposed class.

In response, Goldman argued that complaints that did not involve discrimination claims and those from non-class members were irrelevant.  The company also expressed concerns over employee privacy in supplying unredacted documents.

Broad discovery

According to Judge Francis, discovery is broad in “pattern or practice” cases, in which the plaintiffs are trying to show the company has a policy or history of disparate treatment.  Therefore, the internal complaints need not have specific “buzz words,” such as “gender,” “sex discrimination” or “glass ceiling,” to be relevant, the judge said.

To show disparate treatment, the complaints must include a comparison between the employee complainant and another employee, the judge’s order said.

Judge Francis ordered Goldman Sachs to provide claims lodged by class members where the claimant compared herself with either another class member or a male employee.

The judge rejected the company’s concerns over protecting employee privacy with redacted complaints, finding that the protective order and confidentiality agreement previously established by the parties in the suit addresses privacy.

The unredacted versions are necessary to contact potential witnesses, the judge said.

Finally, Judge Francis did limit the plaintiffs’ access to internal complaints by non-class members.

According to the order, the non-class members come from two groups: women who are in similar positions in non-revenue divisions and those who hold different positions in the same divisions as class members.

It is unlikely that information from women in other divisions would provide any admissible evidence, and discovery would be “overly burdensome,” the judge said.

However, women who work in the same divisions as the class members may provide information about interactions and similar experiences within the divisions and with common managers, the order said.

Chen-Oster et al. v. Goldman Sachs & Co. et al., No. 10-cv-6950, 2013 WL 5629831 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 15, 2013).