- The #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements have exploded in recent years, shedding light on systemic racial and gender bias across American society, and in particular, within American workplaces.
- In 2020, workers spoke publicly in increasing numbers, often by taking their employers to court over pay disparities, harassment and abuse, and toxic company cultures.
- Major businesses including Google, Amazon, McDonald’s, Pinterest, and Johnson & Johnson faced new legal battles this year over allegations of racism and sexism.
- Here are the highest-profile racial and gender discrimination, harassment, and sexual abuse lawsuits that were filed in 2020 against US companies and executives or that added new plaintiffs.
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American workplaces have long been hotbeds of discrimination and harassment, particularly for those who aren’t white, light-skinned, male, straight, single, young, able-bodied Americans.
Since 2000, 99% of Fortune 500 companies have paid settlements in at least one discrimination or sexual harassment lawsuit, according to a report from Good Jobs First, and that’s not including the cases without a public record or incidents victims didn’t report.
Even though there are laws against pay discrimination, US companies on average still pay women just $0.82 for every dollar they pay men, and pay women of color even less – and executives have made virtually no progress in closing wage gaps across the country since the early 2000s. In 2019, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received more than 7,500 sexual harassment complaints, and 72,000 complaints about racial, sex, age, religious and other types of discrimination.
In recent years, however, empowered in part by the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements, American workers are increasingly turning to the courts to hold their employers accountable for breaking civil rights laws and demand companies fix racist, sexist, ageist, ableist, and other biased pay practices and work environments.
Since 2018, companies like Google, Uber, Fox News, Riot Games, UPS, Coca-Cola, and Target have paid out multimillion-dollar settlements, and this year brought an even larger wave of high-profile cases.
Here are some of the major workplace discrimination, harassment, and retaliation lawsuits that workers filed against America’s largest companies in 2020, as well as cases where new plaintiffs joined.
Have you faced discrimination or harassment in your workplace? Contact this reporter using a non-work device via encrypted messaging app Signal at +1 503-319-3213, or by email at email@example.com. We can keep sources anonymous.
- February: Former hiring manager Lisa McCarrick sued Amazon after her manager allegedly asked her to stalk job applicants’ social media accounts to determine their race and gender, and then fired her when she complained. [NBC News]
- October: Shaun Simmons, a transgender man, claimed in a lawsuit that he faced harassment and retaliation while working at Amazon and was demoted and denied a promotion after telling his manager he was pregnant. [NBC News]
- November: Former Amazon warehouse employee Chris Smalls sued Amazon over its pandemic response, claiming it violated civil rights laws by failing to protect Black, Brown, and immigrant warehouse workers from COVID-19 while looking out for its mostly white managers. [Business Insider]
- November: Denard Norton, a Black Amazon warehouse employee, sued the company accusing it of denying him promotions based on race and ignoring his repeated complaints about coworkers’ racist remarks. [NJ.com]
Bloomberg LP was hit by lawsuits accusing it of aiding and abetting Charlie Rose’s sexual harassment, as well as racial and gender bias in its pay and promotion practices.
- June: Two women who had accused ex-CBS News host Charlie Rose of sexual harassment also sued Bloomberg for “aiding and abetting” Rose, who operated his independently owned studio out of Bloomberg’s New York headquarters. [The Hollywood Reporter]
- August: Former Bloomberg reporter Nafeesa Syeed sued the company for pay and promotion practices that were allegedly “top-down” and systemically biased against women of color. [HR Dive]
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a private philanthropy run by Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, was sued by employees who claimed Black employees are “underpaid, undervalued, and marginalized.”
- November: ex-CZI employee Ray Holgado sued the nonprofit, claiming he was consistently denied promotion and growth opportunities, and was treated differently because of his race. [Business Insider]
Disney was sued in 2019 over gender-based pay discrimination, and multiple additional women joined the lawsuit this year.
- March: Chelsea Henke became the tenth Disney executive to join a lawsuit filed against the company in April 2019 that alleged “rampant gender pay discrimination.” [LA Times]
Facebook became the subject of a federal complaint alleging the company is biased against Black employees and candidates.
- July: While not a formal lawsuit, a Facebook recruiter and two rejected job applicants filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing Facebook of “racial discrimination” against Black workers and applicants “in hiring, evaluations, promotions, and pay.” [Business Insider]
Fox News ex-host Ed Henry was accused of sexual assault, while hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Howard Kurtz, and Gianno Caldwell were all accused of harassment in a lawsuit by a former producer.
- July: Former Fox News producer Jennifer Eckhart claimed in a lawsuit that ex-host Ed Henry violently raped her, and that Fox News knew and refused to discipline him, while former Fox guest Cathy Areu alleged she was sexually harassed by Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Howard Kurtz, and Gianno Caldwell. [Business Insider]
Goldman Sachs allegedly covered up sexual misconduct by a top lawyer, and the woman who spoke publicly about it sued, claiming the company retaliated against her.
- October: Former Goldman Sachs employee Marla Crawford claimed one of the bank’s top lawyers, Darrell Cafasso, sexually harassed a female subordinate and that Goldman covered up the allegations and retaliated against her for trying to speak publicly about it. [Business Insider]
Google ex-employees who sued the company in 2017 over gender pay disparities asked the court this year to expand their case to include 10,800 additional coworkers.
- July: Four employees who sued Google in 2017, alleging women at the company are paid about $16,794 less than men in similar positions, asked the court to grant their lawsuit class action status, which would allow them to represent 10,800 other female Google employees. [Business Insider]
Hearst, the parent company of Esquire magazine, was sued by an ex-executive at Esquire who claimed she faced gender and age discrimination from her former boss.
- September: Former Esquire ad executive Lauren Johnson, 52, sued Hearst, the magazine’s parent company, claiming she faced age and gender discrimination as well as retaliation for complaining, and that her boss Jack Essig “regularly mocked” older employees and female workers. [Business Insider]
Johnson & Johnson was sued by an ex-exec who claimed she faced “sexist, harassing and demeaning” behavior from male coworkers due to her gender and sexual orientation.
- December: Gina Bilotti, a high-ranking 25-year veteran of Johnson & Johnson, sued the company, claiming she had endured years of discrimination, harassment, abuse, and retaliation on the basis of her gender and sexual orientation. [NJ.com]
Marriott was sued by a Black ex-employee who claimed he was fired in retaliation for complaining about racist behavior by coworkers.
- July: Kaseam Seales, formerly a bellhop at a Marriott hotel in New Jersey, claimed the company fired him in retaliation for complaining that his coworkers were exhibiting racist behavior toward him, and that they consistently gave more lucrative shifts to white bellhops. [Providence Journal]
McDonald’s is facing two racial discrimination lawsuits from Black franchisees as well as a class action sexual harassment suit, and could be on the hook for billions of dollars in damages.
- April: McDonald’s employees filed a $500 million sexual harassment class-action lawsuit against the company, claiming they faced physical and verbal harassment from coworkers and customers. [Business Insider]
- August: 52 Black ex-franchisees filed a $1 billion racial-discrimination lawsuit against McDonald’s, claiming the company sent them on “financial suicide missions” by pushing them to open stores in less profitable locations, eventually cutting the number of Black franchisees by 50% over the past two decades. [Business Insider]
- October: In a separate class action suit, current Black franchisees said they faced a “pipeline of discrimination” from McDonald’s, which allegedly imposed “two standards” for white and black owners, giving white franchisees better opportunities while being more strict with Black owners on safety inspections. [Business Insider]
Morgan Stanley’s first diversity officer sued the bank over claims of racial discrimination and retaliating against employees who tried to make its culture more inclusive.
- June: Marilyn Booker, Morgan Stanley’s first diversity officer, claimed in a racial-discrimination lawsuit that the bank retaliated against her and other Black female employees and eventually fired her for trying to make the bank’s workforce more diverse and inclusive. [The Washington Post]
The NCAA was sued by HBCU athletes who claimed the organization’s academic performance policies are biased against their schools.
- December: Athletes from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association, college sports’ governing body, claiming its academic performance standards — which are ostensibly meant to improve graduation rates — simply ended up discriminating against their schools, and thus disproportionately impacted Black student athletes. [NPR]
Oracle was sued in 2017 by female employees over gender pay disparities, and a court earlier this year opened the class action to more than 4,000 other current and former employees.
- May: Three female Oracle employees sued the company in 2017, claiming it paid women less than men, citing an economists’ study that found the pay gap averaged $13,000 per year. This year, a court granted the case class action status, opening the door for more than 4,000 current and former employees to join the suit. [The Mercury News]
Pinterest recently paid a former executive $22.5 million to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit and is facing another from shareholders over alleged racial and gender discrimination.
- August: Ex-Pinterest COO Françoise Brougher filed a gender-bias lawsuit against the company, claiming she faced pay discrimination and sexist behavior from other executives. Pinterest paid $22.5 million in December to settle the suit. [Business Insider]
- December: Following Brougher’s lawsuit and explosive allegations by dozens of current and former employees, Pinterest shareholders sued the company, accusing it of harming investors by creating and perpetuating a culture of racial and sex discrimination. [Business Insider]
Uber was sued by a driver who claimed the company’s five-star rating system is racially biased.
- October: Thomas Liu, a former Uber driver, sued the company after it kicked him off the platform because his driver rating had fallen below a 4.6 out of 5. He claimed Uber’s use of the system amounted to “intentional race discrimination” because of the “widely recognized” notion that racism often slips into customers’ evaluations of workers. [Business Insider]
Warner Bros. was sued by a former executive who alleged she faced gender discrimination and harassment from men in the company’s senior ranks, which she called an “old boys club.”
- October: An ex-Warner Bros. executive sued the company over gender discrimination, claiming she was fired in retaliation for raising complaints about sexist behavior and harassment by male executives. [Deadline]
WeWork was hit with at least three lawsuits from former employees alleging harassment, discrimination, and that a manager intimidated an employee by, among other things, bringing a crossbow and knives to work.
- July: WeWork became the subject of three new gender and race discrimination and harassment lawsuits this year, including from an employee who claimed her boss brought a crossbow and knives to work, implied he had connections to the Mafia, and made unwanted sexual advances. Two Black employees also said they were paid less than white coworkers and faced retaliation for raising issues, with one also saying she was sexually harassed. [Business Insider]
Are there other high-profile discrimination or harassment lawsuits that should be added to this list? Contact this reporter using a non-work device via encrypted messaging app Signal at +1 503-319-3213, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.