Qualcomm to pay out $19.5m in gender discrimination settlement

28 Jul 2016

Qualcomm in landmark settlement in gender discrimination case

Chip giant Qualcomm has agreed to pay $19.5m to settle a gender discrimination class-action lawsuit, in which it is alleged women were denied pay and job opportunities equal to their male counterparts’.

It was alleged that women at the company received lower pay and fewer chances for promotion than men.

The deal will affect around 3,300 current and former Qualcomm female employees.

‘By paying $19.5m in monetary relief and agreeing to additional costs associated with instituting internal changes, Qualcomm is investing in real equity for its current employees and for a rising generation of women in tech’

In addition to monetary relief, the settlement requires Qualcomm to institute comprehensive programmatic relief, which will ensure that female employees working in STEM and related positions will enjoy equal job opportunities at the company, the lawyers taking the case said.

Under the settlement agreement, Qualcomm will make a non-reversionary payment of $19.5m to settle all class claims in the case.

Ending discrimination against female STEM workers

Qualcomm will also institute significant changes in its policies and practices to help eliminate gender disparities and foster equal employment opportunity going forward.

These changes will have a lasting positive impact on women at the company, said David Sanford, chairman of Sanford Heisler and lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

“It is common knowledge that women in STEM and other related fields face persistent discrimination in pay and promotions,” Sanford said.

“This settlement represents a giant leap forward toward leveling the playing field, and can serve as a model of best practices for other technology companies.

“The fact that the settlement has produced such an excellent result without litigation is a tribute to the good faith Qualcomm and the plaintiffs exemplified throughout the settlement process. Qualcomm is a great company that has now become even greater.”

The case may be the tip of the iceberg, with many long-running grievances over the treatment of women in Silicon Valley finally coming to the surface.

A damning “Elephant in the Valley” study published earlier this year revealed that discrimination against women and sexual harassment in the workplace were endemic throughout the tech industry.

But, while the Qualcomm case may the be tip of the iceberg, Sanford said it offers an opportunity for tech companies to learn how to ensure that discrimination can be dealt with or avoided in the future.

Qualcomm has agreed to retain two independent consultants, who specialise in industrial, organised psychology who will be charged with conducting a full assessment of the company’s policies and practices.

The independent consultants will provide specific recommendations designed to make the company a more equitable workplace for women.

Qualcomm will also appoint an internal compliance official to ensure the company complies with the terms of the settlement agreement.

“The abstract commitment to workplace equality for women will never become a reality without tangible commitments to transparency and guaranteed freedom from reprisal,” said Felicia Medina, managing partner of Sanford Heisler’s San Francisco office.

“Without those and other concrete structural changes, lofty promises for diversity and equality go unfulfilled.

“By paying $19.5m in monetary relief, and agreeing to additional costs associated with instituting internal changes, Qualcomm is investing in real equity for its current employees and for a rising generation of women in tech.”

For its part, Qualcomm said that, as well as appointing an internal compliance officer, it will conduct regular pay equity and promotion analyses.

“Qualcomm is committed to treating its employees fairly and equitably,” Christine Trimble, the company’s vice president of public affairs, said in a statement.

Qualcomm image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years