Women Sue Goldman Sachs for “Male Corporate Culture”

Three women are suing mega-investment firm Goldman Sachs over what they call “unchecked gender bias that pervades Goldman Sachs’s corporate culture.” Former vice president Cristina Chen-Oster, former managing director Lisa Parisi, and an associate, Shanna Orlich, claim that the firm underpaid them, and failed to promote women. In the suit, they allege:

“Goldman Sachs gives its managers, the overwhelming majority of whom are men, unchecked discretion to assign responsibilities, accounts and projects to their subordinates. The end result is that managers, whether based on conscious or unexamined bias, most often assign the most lucrative and promising opportunities, and ‘seats’, to men…Goldman Sachs has intentionally implemented these company-wide policies and practices in order to pay their male employees more money than their female counterparts, and to promote them more frequently.”

The suit also references occasions when Chen-Oster was invited to a company-sponsored trip to Scores strip club and was excluded from work-related golf outings.

Sex discrimination on Wall Street is nothing new. In 2004, a judge awarded a $54 million settlement for sex discrimination at Morgan Stanley. And in 2008, a group of female employees won a class action lawsuit to the tune of $33 million against investment firm Smith Barney for similar claims. The finance industry is famously unsympathetic to women. In 2004, former Merrill Lynch Chairman David Komansky said, “There is nothing that holds back women or any other minority group. It’s time to get on with life and either compete or not.”

A Goldman Sachs spokesman responded to the suit, saying, “We believe this suit is without merit. People are critical to our business, and we make extraordinary efforts to recruit, develop and retain outstanding women professionals.” They point to their 10,000 Women program — which aims to cultivate talent in emerging economies — as an example of the company’s pro-woman stance.

Yet the numbers don’t lie: At Goldman Sachs, women comprise 14 percent of partners, 17 percent of managing directors and 29 percent of vice presidents. The suit alleges that women are often passed over for promotions in favor of their male counterparts.

Many of us work — or have worked — in male-dominated fields, where women’s presence is begrudgingly tolerated, if not unwelcome. But when does a lack of women in leadership in the workplace go from coincidence to a concerted effort on the part of those in charge?