In a major class-action lawsuit filed last summer, seven high-level female employees of the software developer, Qualcomm, sued the company on behalf of more than 3,000 female workers for gender discrimination, including motherhood discrimination. The women claimed that they were repeatedly passed over for advancement in favor of less-qualified male employees. They believe this explains why women make up only 5 percent of senior management positions at the San Diego-based tech firm, and only 5 percent of top engineering positions. “Qualcomm maintains an unwritten policy of disparately rewarding employees who work late into the night over employees who choose to arrive early and leave at the end of a normal work-day. This policy disparately impacts and causes the Company to undervalue caregivers of school-aged children ... These common policies stigmatize employees with caregiving responsibilities and disproportionately penalize women,” they wrote in their complaint.
One of the plaintiffs, a senior-level market analyst and working mother, said that she was passed over for promotions in favor of substantially less-qualified male workers despite her outstanding performance reviews. One top engineer with three school-aged children said she began receiving negative evaluations and fewer promotions compared to less-qualified male peers after she asked to scale back her work schedule to 30 hours per week to take care of her children—even though she says she was just as productive as before. The same month that employees filed the lawsuit, Qualcomm agreed to settle the case for $23.5 million. Of that payout, $19.5 million will be paid to the female employees, and the company agreed to spend another $4 million to ensure equal opportunities for women at Qualcomm. “While we have strong defenses to the claims, we elected to focus on continuing to make meaningful enhancements to our internal programs and processes that drive equity and a diverse and inclusive workforce,” a spokesperson from Qualcomm said in a statement.
Cynthia Calvert, a senior advisor at the WorkLife Center, says that caregiver discrimination is one of the fastest-growing areas of employment law. “Employers haven’t realized that discrimination against motherhood or fatherhood can be gender discrimination,” she says. It’s particularly insidious in supervisors’ biases about gender roles. With women, she says, a common scenario involves overlooking female employees for challenging assignments because employers assume mothers won’t want to travel or handle the extra workload. “With men, they are punished because they want to work more flexibly to take care of a child, and the employer thinks they’re not acting the way men are supposed to act,” says Calvert, who has analyzed thousands of parental-discrimination cases. While claims filed by fathers are fewer than those filed by working mothers and pregnant women, Calvert says the number of male plaintiffs has increased sharply in the past decade.