Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
High Tech Gender Discrimination

Kelly Dermody in Law360 on Gender Bias Challenges Facing Uber and Other High Tech Companies

Law360 (subscription) gives high-tech gender bias a new close look through the lens of Uber’s recent widely-reported fair treatment failure with regard to one high-profile female engineer. Lieff Cabraser attorney Kelly Dermody, head of the firm’s Employment Discrimination practice group and managing partner of the San Francisco office, spoke with the publication about challenges facing companies, particularly tech companies, when Human Resources departments are given second-class status.

“Very often in HR, there are people who are being tasked with difficult roles in terms of investigation that don’t come out of an HR background, that come out of marketing or some place else,” said Dermody, who continues to represent workers in gender and race discrimination cases against Silicon Valley and other high tech firms. “It’s an afterthought. It has to be a frontline priority that people on the business side say is important to them.”

After former Uber website reliability engineer Susan Fowler’s essay on her ultimately unavailing struggles to get a fair and meaningful response after reporting allegations patently biased and discriminatory treatment at Uber went viral, the company has been forced to scramble to do damage control and try to convince the world (and its employees) that it takes gender discrimination seriously and will improve its internal practices to ensure a safe and fair workplace for all workers, male and female.

Another ongoing problem is the way high tech companies treat offenders with kid gloves if they are perceived as “star performers.” (This kind of treatment was another component of Ms. Fowler’s complaints).

“There’s a cultural resistance in so many companies to taking disciplinary action against people who are perceived as favored by management,” Dermody notes. “There’s a system inside so many companies where there are people who are bound by the rules and people who are not, and you can’t have a company that runs fairly unless everyone is bound to the rules.”

Dermody further points out that companies with discrimination problems have two paths to fixing things: they can either address issues after a scandal hits, or take a hard look and evolve their culture and leadership of their own will beforehand. After Fowler’s Uber story went viral, the company had to race into action to do damage control, including a large company meeting and promises to implement changes.

“What happened to Uber is a prime example of what companies never want to see happen on their watch,” Dermody concludes. “It should light a fire under people that this could happen to them.”

Read the full story on Law360 (subscription).

Upholding Employee Rights

Lieff Cabraser has a strong tradition of fighting for employee rights across America. Our employment law class action cases challenge discrimination based on employees’ race, color, national origin, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, or disability; wage violations, including failure to pay overtime, break time, or vacation time; and misuse of employees’ retirement benefits. We also represent employees who “blow the whistle” on wrongdoing by their employers as well as in other cases alleging violations of the law.

About Kelly M. Dermody

The Chair of Lieff Cabraser’s employment practice group and Managing Partner of Lieff Cabraser’s San Francisco office, Ms. Dermody supervises many of the most significant and challenging employment lawsuits in our nation today, including the recently-filed gender discrimination case against Sandia National Labs and other cases challenging gender and race discrimination by top Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Fortune 100 firms; wage suppression claims against technology, healthcare, and academic institutions; overtime and lost pay lawsuits for low-wage workers, I/T professionals, and foreign nationals working for American corporations; and ERISA claims that she has tried on behalf of employees and retirees for pension plan abuses.