Dell Hit With Discrimination Class-action Lawsuit

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Recent layoffs at Dell unfairly targeted women and workers over age 40, and the company discriminates against women in pay and promotions, according to a new lawsuit filed by four former human-resources managers at the computer maker.

The four former HR executives at Dell are seeking US$500 million in a class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The four women alleged that the company and its "old boy network" discriminated against women in pay, job placement, promotions and layoffs.

Dell in May 2007 announced plans to lay off about 8,800 workers, about 10 percent of its workforce. Those layoffs unfairly targeted women and older workers, and more than 80 percent of Dell's upper management is now male, the lawsuit alleges.

"While Dell publicly proclaims a commitment to diversity as 'an essential element of our corporate values,' the reality fails to live up to the rhetoric," Steven Wittels, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. "At Dell, it is an understatement to say that women face a glass ceiling; Dell's glass ceiling is made of concrete."

Each of the four plaintiffs allege that they have lost more than $1 million in salary and other benefits due to Dell's discrimination. The plaintiffs will produce statistical evidence in the case, said Wittels, of the Sanford Wittels and Heisler law firm.

A call to Dell's media hotline was not immediately returned.

Dell's diversity Web page says that more than half of the company's employees are women or minorities. A third of the company's workforce are women, and 32 percent of the company's U.S. vice presidents are women or minorities, the page says.

"Dell's diversity programs give us access to the broadest pool of employees, which the company needs to meet the demands of its growing customer base," the Web site says. "We recognize, of course, that this is always unfinished business. We actively recruit diverse talent and offer diverse employees tools to promote advancement."

The company has received a number of awards for its diversity programs.

Former senior HR manager Bethany Riches, one of the plaintiffs, was told in an e-mail by Dell Vice President Michael Summers that she shouldn't assume she's personally responsible if she had problems "breaking into arguably one of the toughest old boy networks," according to a press release about the lawsuit. Riches and other female HR managers were repeatedly denied promotions promised to them, the lawsuit alleges.

Another former senior HR manager, Mildred Chapman, was repeatedly denied promotions or pay increases although her responsibilities equaled or exceeded those of younger male directors, the lawsuit alleges. Chapman was laid off from Dell in April.

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