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New Federal Lawsuit Aims to Shatter Alleged Glass Ceiling at Retailer

Retailer Rue21 has been accused of promotion discrimination in violation of Title VII by financial manager Misty Parshall, according to the complaint below in Parshall v. New Rue21, LLC, filed February 3 in the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Parshall alleges that after the company denied her the opportunity to apply for a vice president position, it then gave a similar position to a less-qualified man. Parshall, a controller who has worked with the company for five years, states that she has also experienced other gender-based discrimination throughout her time working in Rue21’s corporate offices outside Pittsburgh. Rue21 denies the allegations in the complaint.

She alleges that her experience exemplifies systemic discrimination within the company’s corporate offices, where it regularly chose men over women for positions and promotions, despite the women being as or more qualified. In her complaint, Parshall also says that when she had suggested the company hire a female for an open manager position, her superiors told her that they could not offer the female prospective employee more than $95,000. However, a male the company hired for a comparable position a few months later allegedly received $115,000.

Parshall avers that she was regularly left out of functions and events, while men at or below her level of experience were included. One example she provides in her complaint is that when a vendor for which she was the point of contact invited Rue21’s then-CFO to a hockey game, he invited a male employee to the game rather than Parshall. Unlike Parshall, the male had no connection or prior contact with the vendor. This male employee was later promoted to a VP role while Parshall was not, although she claims that he was less qualified than she was.

The complaint states that when Parshall saw that Rue21 had listed an open VP position, she expressed her interest in applying for the position only to be told by the company’s president that the position had been listed by mistake. The company then withdrew the job posting and re-posted it with slightly different qualifications and responsibilities. After the company re-listed the position, it promoted the less-qualified male candidate to the position. The male employee was further promoted to VP of financial planning the next month. Parshall was more qualified than the male employee, as she is a certified public accountant with a master’s degree in financial planning, while the he holds neither qualification. Parshall seeks front pay, back pay, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.

Promotion discrimination perpetuates the Glass Ceiling

While corporate America has become significantly more diverse in recent years, corporations and especially the highest-level corporate positions still do not adequately reflect the racial diversity of the rest of the country, perpetuating glass ceiling discrimination and making it harder for women and minorities to break through. Glass ceiling discrimination, a form of promotion discrimination, remains a hurdle for women and minorities seeking to work in the highest-paid corporate positions. As in Parshall’s case, when homogeneity persists in upper-level corporate positions, this can make it harder for new, diverse applicants to move up the ladder.

After an employee alleging promotion discrimination proves her prima facie case and a corporation offers a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for not selecting her, the employee must show that the company’s offered reason is pretext for discrimination. An employee can show that a company’s given reason is pretext by offering evidence that she was better qualified than the person the company promoted, that similarly situated employees of a different race or gender were treated better, or that the employer’s offered reasons are inconsistent or flawed.

© 2020 Zuckerman Law

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About this Author

Eric Bachman, Discrimination Attorney, Zuckerman Law Firm
Of Counsel

Eric Bachman is Chair of the Discrimination and Retaliation practices at Zuckerman Law and has served in senior positions at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.  Bachman’s wins include a $100 million settlement in a disparate impact Title VII class action, a record-setting Whistleblower Protection Act settlement at OSC, and a $16 million class action settlement against a major grocery chain.  Bachman holds extensive litigation experience, including trials in federal and state courts, and has also set important...

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Katherine Krems Zuckerman discrimination, sexual harassment, whistleblower retaliation
Attorney

Katherine Krems represents employees in discriminationsexual harassment, and whistleblower retaliation cases.  She is focused on finding creative solutions and maximizing her clients’ recoveries.  Prior to law school, she worked on policy reforms in Congress to strengthen the rights of workers, women, and marginalized groups.  During law school, she was Senior Articles Editor of the Federal Communications Law Journal and served as a student attorney with Rising for Justice and an intern at the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  Katherine has a law degree from the George Washington University Law School and an M.A. in Nonfiction Writing from Johns Hopkins University, and she has taught writing workshops for middle school students in the D.C. Public Schools.  She is admitted to practice in Maryland.

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