Sexual discrimination in the work place essay

sexual discrimination in the work place based on a case study and then suggest solutions for such a scenario. The case on which the whole report will be based is a suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Marla Sexson, a former admissions dean of Newman University. The charge against the college administration is that the university did not promote her when her female supervisor resigned because the Newman president, Aidan Dunleavy, wanted to change her with a man. When Sexson lodged complain against the unfair treatment meted out to her, University retaliated with bad behavior by changing her duties and job title. This demotion from her earlier position totally disheartened Sexson and finally she had to resign. According to the news reports there have been attempts to resolve the issue without a lawsuit but such efforts did not come to fruition. A lawsuit is now in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City. “According to Sexson the lawsuit is directed at the current administration, which has stifled growth and created an atmosphere of fear at the school” (Willson, 2005).

This is a classic case of unfair promotion and later on using tactics to silent the person making a hue and cry about the whole issue. We can draw parallels in the corporate world using this case of the university. In the workplace, top-level promotions usually become a bone of contention. Cases of manipulation and sexual discrimination like this have come to the fore in the past as well. So, we will dwell on this issue in this paper and look at the solutions, policies, procedure and actions to redress such a situation from the human resources point-of-view.

Newman University is a Catholic Liberal arts institution offering associate, baccalaureate, and master’s degrees. Newman University was started by a group of Sisters who arrived in Wichita in 1902 as an institution exclusively for girls. Later in 1963, as the status of the institution was upgraded, men were also allowed admission and it became a co-education institution. “Newman University is committed to the belief that the spiritual nature of all persons can and should influence all aspects of life and, therefore, is an important factor in the improvement of our technological society” (Mission Statement).

Newman University has 2,179 students from 19 states and 31 countries. There are 78 full time and 113 part time faculty members. Average tuition fee was $14,650 for the 2004-2005 academic year and during the 2003-2004 school year, around 99% of incoming new freshman students received Newman University scholarships. A man, Aidan O. Dunleavy who is a PhD, currently heads the university.

HR department at the university deals with issues related to employment and employees. According to their official website, they are currently looking for HR director to head their human resources team. Their employment relationship with employee is called, “employment-at-will.” Either the employer or employee with or without notice can terminate the employment relationship.

About EEOC

EEOC or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission helps people in filing suit for charges like sexual, racial, ethnic, religious discrimination or harassment etc. Though not everybody can come to EEOC and say that I have a charge against our employer but they have to show to EEOC some proofs also in support of their claim. Proofs like demotion, adverse working environment, and abusive words by the employers etc. help the affected person lodge a case with EEOC. EEOC also attempts mediation before taking a case to courts in most of the cases so that an early and easy solution could be achieved by negotiation because on an average the resolution of a case takes six months in courts. “The E.E.O.C. files a lawsuit on behalf of workers only in the most serious cases of discrimination, or where policy issues or multiple employees are involved” (Dwyer, 2005).

Resolution Of Issue

Best approach to the resolution of such issues is negotiations and careful handling when an employee makes a complaint. Many HR departments are renowned world over for their open door policies and approachability. It seems in this particular case such a scenario never existed in place where genuine concerns of employees are heard. Instead of dealing with the employee in a gentle manner the employers have reacted adversely by demoting Sexson that has strengthened her case against the administrators of the University. Because of adverse action taken by the University, EEOC took up her case and offered opportunity for negotiation, which was the best way out for University HR or administrators. Now litigation can be very harmful for University’s image and repute given that the University has a Catholic background also. Litigation not only makes headlines but it is also a time consuming and expensive proposition for most organizations particularly in the case being discussed where a University is involved. “USX settled a class-action racial discrimination suit in 1992 for $42 million; Texaco settled a sex discrimination suit in 1991 for $17.6 million. The average cost in 1992 of an individual’s discrimination suit against a company was $75,000; the cost of the average age discrimination suit was $750,000” (Haines, 1997).

Men and women have certain different traits that make them unique but the difference in terms of performance, compensation and work are considered problem areas. Gender discrimination takes place in a number of ways at work place like, employment of women or women with certain racial/religious backgrounds are discouraged, career progression and growth of women are discouraged due to different reasons as in the case discussed, difference in salary structures of people with same job responsibilities and title etc. Reports and researches have proved that there is a gap in the salaries and pay scales of men and women in workplace. Some people are also of the view that sexual discrimination starts at the recruitment level and so mostly women lag behind men in their career progression. “Employers play a particularly important role in determining levels of gender and racial equality because it is they who choose whom to hire, whom to promote, and whom to pay well. Women and minorities do not choose what jobs they work in. Responsibility for hiring in most capitalist nations remains with management” (Cohn, 2000).


Considering the problem at hand and judging the whole issue from the perspective of discrimination problems that exist in work place, it is highly advisable to start dealing with the problem instead of brushing it under the carpet and make room for improvements in the future policies and actions.

Accepting the Fault

For an organization that has been slapped with a lawsuit based on sexual discrimination and that too with the help of EEOC then first step in the right direction would be to accept the mistake. If a mistake or fault lies with the administration or HR department then owning up to it will not only open the avenues for the solution of problem at hand but it will also make room for improvement in the future formulation of HR policies. Denial that discrimination or harassment do not exist would only make the matter worse. Acceptance of the matter and move towards its solution should also be communicated to all the employees so that employee morale is not hurt. At times such issues within the organization result in more HR problems like, leave, turnover, and tardiness among stressed employees. Even if the fault does not lie with management for a sexual discrimination case, still communication to all the employees becomes important to quash grapevine and gossip leading to uncertainty in minds of employees. If employees are hurt directly or indirectly, it may result in frustration and volatile and pent up emotions.

External communication

As discussed earlier that communication within the organization is important but when the issue has made headlines then communication to the external public becomes more important. Once the management has grappled the issue and has made mind about the stance it is going to take in the future regarding this case, then they should immediately call the press and media to make public their point-of-view. If the university does not do it then only one-sided story will float in the media that will only strengthen the case in court against the University. In such drastic situation adept handling by the expert public relations officers is required.

Future Outlook

Considering the nature of case and its repercussions management must straighten their act and devise policies and adopt practices that will help in future. If the people in the administration do not learn their lessons from this case and attempt to bring about a change in their HR practices then approach of the management for future may bring more problems. In fact this approach is management by hope that they can stick to age old practices and win the hearts and minds of employees. In order to win their hearts and minds and to employ their brains and wits a change in the right direction is the need of the day for all such organizations.

Policies and Procedures:

Clear-cut polices that show no regard for acts of discrimination and harassment should be circulated within and if possible outside the organization to external audiences as well. Mission, vision, goals and other such important documents should also reflect the policies regarding employee relationship. Even in case of budget allocation certain amounts should be allocated to addressing such sensitive issues because if pushed under the carpet these issue result in expensive lawsuits for the organizations. So, its better that organizations brainstorm to formulate stringent policies regarding all issues related to human resources in general and particularly related to issues like discrimination. If the rules and regulations are already there then management must act to enforce them by their actions rather than mere lip service and if they have not been formulated yet in a proper document then immediate action is required in this regard.

Concept of Quality of Work Life:

Quality of Work Life or QWL is the concept used in modern HR management the need of which seems direr in the case being discussed. QWL is about maintaining a healthy employee relationship by “having good supervision, good working conditions, good pay and benefits and an interesting, challenging and rewarding job” (Werther Jr., 2000) This is the case of easy said then done for most organizations. This is a proactive approach that unfortunately has not been adopted by most organizations. QWL requires HR departments to make an active effort to involve employees in organizational decisions by empowering them and for that to happen both compensation and job design should satisfy the employees. Extra emphasis should also be given to the working conditions that can only be conducive if modern HR practices are reflected in organizational culture and policies. If problems of discrimination are raised in court then HR must seek answers in their culture whether the work life they are offering to their employees is fulfilling and enriching or is it stifling and oppressive.

Merit-Based Promotions:

HR departments or administrations still stick to the stick and carrot approach when it comes to compensation and promotion. The best practice is to adopt merit or performance-based promotion in the organization in its true spirit. If promotions are not being made in accordance to the merit then the person whose case is under consideration is not the only one who gets affected but the whole organization feels the ripple effect creating a feeling of despair and apprehension among employees. If any decision is made against the norm of merit or due to peculiar reasons then the communication of reasons of such a decision becomes more important for maintaining the normalcy.

Employee Counseling:

Counseling is one of the tools that modern HR managers use for discussion with the employees their job related issues. In order to effectively utilize employees’ talent, discussion of their problems with management can help a lot. It is generally a confidential relationship between the counselor and the employee who discuss the problems and issues. This confidential relationship builds a feeling of trust between the employee and employer. The employee feels that employer is concerned about his job related problems and seeks to solve them with the help of discussion. This also fosters hope that the problems will be resolved and everything will workout for the employee in the end. This approach benefits employers more than the employee because dealing with the problem imminently on one-on-one basis does not disrupt the functioning of whole organization and bigger problems like litigation are averted.

Encouraging Diversity:

Diversity became a buzzword in the 80s when new and diverse group of people particularly women and minorities started joining the corporate world. By the turn of the century women’s and other groups’ involvement has increased so much that HR departments have an extra issue of diversity to deal with. In order to deal with the issue of diversity, the concept of diversity training was introduced. Diversity training was focused on respecting and understanding differences among humans. Organizational policies should be made in a way that clearly stipulates that any kind of discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated. For this purpose, accountability of employees is important when it comes to their performance appraisals, promotions, compensations, and even termination. When employees know that their survival depends on better interaction and relationship with employees then they will make sure that they become part of a discrimination free and diverse environment and so the culture of tolerance and diversity is cultivated within organization. All this cannot happen if top management and board members are also the supporter and harbinger of such a system and if the negative influence comes from the top as in the case we are discussing then the whole culture gets affected. Diversity in such stifling environment cannot flourish.


On the basis of all the discussion related to diversity, discrimination and modern HR practices, the best recommendation for the University administrators is to make two teams. One should deal with the problem at hand and for this involvement of all top people including the president is necessary. Second team must make a list of recommendations for future action and seek their implementation as well. Last but not he least is the effort required to clean the image of University which has been badly affected by the lawsuit and if a compromise is not achieved in the future and the case is fought in the court of law then constant PR job is required on part of University.


Cohn, S. (2000). Race and Gender Discrimination at Work. Westview Press

Colella, A., Dipboye, R. (2005). Discrimination at Work: The Psychological and Organizational Bases. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Dwyer, K. (2005). Taking Action Against Discrimination. New York Times October 02.. Retrieved on October 5, 2005 from:

Haines, R., Hemphill, H. (1997). Discrimination, Harassment, and the Failure of Diversity Training: What to Do Now. Quorum Books

Werther, W., Davis, K. (2000). Human resources and Personnel Management. McGraw Hill Inc. International Edition

Willson, B. (2005). EEOC files sex discrimination case against Newman University. Wichita Business Journal. Retrieved on October 5, 2005 from:

Newman University. (n.d) Retrieved on October 5, 2005 from:

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