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Ex-Goldman Workers Call For Class Cert In Gender Bias Suit

Law360—Kat Greene

A group of former employees at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. upped the ante on Tuesday in a lawsuit that alleges the bank pays women less, sexualizes women and undermines their success, asking a New York federal judge to certify them as a class.

Cristina Chen-Oster and Shanna Orlich sought certification in a motion filed Tuesday, arguing that, counter to what Goldman has claimed in the suit thus far, the women working in different departments across the giant bank can be grouped together for the suit because they’re subject to uniform company policies, according to the filing.

The women allege that the bank pays similarly situated female vice presidents 21 percent less than their male counterparts and that 23 percent fewer female vice presidents are promoted to managing director roles that instead go to their male colleagues.

“The record overwhelmingly demonstrates that year after year Goldman continues to treat women as second-class employees, permitting a culture of fear and retaliation to flourish rather than fixing known, systemic gender bias,” the plaintiffs said in a memorandum in support of Tuesday's motion. “Goldman also perpetuates a gender-biased culture that sexualizes women and undermines their success.”

The firm has maintained a culture that is “hostile” to women, Chen-Oster and Orlich say. The pair argue in the 58-page memo supporting their bid for class certification that the bank has kept to its “boys’ club” atmosphere despite hearing from many female employees that the environment is discriminatory, according to the filing.

Orlich, a college varsity golfer, was not invited to the all-male golf outings attended by her similarly situated colleagues and senior managers, for example, the plaintiffs say.

Swaths of the memo itself have been redacted, according to court records, including many details of other female employees’ allegations of bias at the company.

The employees pointed to Goldman’s “360-degree” review process, in which women are reviewed by their male colleagues, often to detrimental results, according to the filing. Male co-workers rate one another higher, moving the men up for promotion over their female counterparts, regardless of performance, the putative class alleged.

The former employees filed suit in 2010, alleging that female employees at the bank are given tasks such as mentoring new employees and are passed over for promotions or jobs such as working on the trading floor, among other things.

Chen-Oster, who worked for Goldman Sachs' convertible bonds department from 1997 to 2005, received only one promotion in her eight years of service — from a position with no name to vice president, the complaint says. There are many employees who share the “vice president” title at the company.

Chen-Oster alleges that in 1997 she attended a Goldman Sachs party for a male employee's promotion at Scores, a Manhattan strip club, and afterward was followed home by a male colleague who then sexually assaulted her.

When Chen-Oster reported the assault to her boss, some of her job duties were taken away, and the colleague responsible was eventually promoted to partner, according to the complaint.

Between 1997 and 2004, Chen-Oster's compensation increased by only 24 percent, while the man she accuses of attacking her received a 400 percent increase, according to the complaint.

In October, a New York judge ordered Goldman to disclose gender discrimination complaints that women working in its four revenue-generating departments had filed, in a victory for the putative class.

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The bank has tried and failed at least twice to have the suit tossed, according to court records.

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The plaintiffs are represented by Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP and Outten & Golden LLP.

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The case is H. Cristina Chen-Oster et al. v. Goldman Sachs & Co. et al., case number 1:10-cv-06950, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.