A recent employment discrimination case brought in New York provides a perfect example of gender oppression among company shareholders. In that case, a female shareholder of an accounting firm alleged she was subjected to offensive, condescending, comments by male employees at the firm, which was openly tolerated by the male shareholders. The court allowed the claims to proceed.
Underlying Facts of the Case
Diane Straka was a certified public accountant working at a firm in Buffalo, New York. The accounting firm was organized as a professional corporation and Straka was one of four 25% shareholders in the firm. She was also a director and officer. The three remaining shareholders were male. Straka retained administrative duties in the IT department. The shareholder agreed to use a formula for determining the compensation of the shareholders based on an “earnings matrix” that allocated revenue from clients and expenses. However, the agreement between the shareholders was never reduced to writing.
Allegations of Harassment and Oppression Based on Gender
In reviewing this case, the court found that not long after Straka moved into her new office as a shareholder, she was met with oppressive comments by a senior accountant. When she introduced herself, the accountant asked her, “Oh, are you the one who makes me coffee?” However, he knew she was a partner in the firm. He also found the need to show her a demeaning carton he had posted on his office door. As an administrator, Straka also received complaints from female employees about the same accountant’s “unsolicited, demeaning remarks.” These employees also complained to some of the male shareholders. In fact, the situation was so bad that many of the women, including Straka, avoided the office lunchroom because of the accountant’s presence making them uncomfortable.
Male Shareholders’ Ratifying Response to Complaints
There were several examples of shareholder responses to complaints that suggested they ratified the harassing conduct of the senior accountant. For instance, on one occasion the accountant entered a conference room where Straka and a male shareholder were sitting. When Straka told the accountant to sit anywhere, he asked if he could sit in her lap and the male shareholder only smirked. In essence, Straka alleged that the male shareholders were “treat[ing] the Corporation as a boys’ club, permitting the open and unabashed harassment of Straka by a male employee — with their knowledge and without penalty — and marginalized Straka in every manner they could.” When Straka complained about this situation to her partners during a meeting. Their only response was to tell him to “tone it down” and to tell her to “hang in there” because he would be retiring soon.
The Court’s Decision
The court found that the male shareholders should have known that their female counterpart reasonably expects to be treated with the same dignity and respect as they expect. In this case, the court found she was not being treated that way.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!