Robertson's gender equality victory cannot forget Pao
Three weeks ago, the Tartan gave its thoughts on the gender discrimination case that Ellen Pao filed and lost. What makes cases like these so difficult to win is that many cases of workplace discrimination against women are too subtle to effectively document and "prove."
Therefore, it is heartening to hear the recent case of Fayette County citizen Sandra Robertson. After hearing her testimony about the discrimination she faced in her workplace, a jury awarded her an unheard of $12.5 million in damages.
A 20-year veteran of the Air Force, Robertson was hired at Hunter Panels in 2006 and became shipping manager. As an ex-military woman, she was used to working in a male-dominated industry, but while Robertson says she "can take a joke," her experiences at Hunter Panels exceeded what any woman should have to tolerate.
Co-workers called her "big girl," made obscene gestures when her voice came over the radio, and claimed she was "losing her mind" or "throwing fits" when she complained about the treatment. Evidence also showed that Robertson received less money than her male predecessor, despite her experience in the field.
She was even referred to a counselor for anger management, only for the counselor to deem that she did not require any treatment. Not only were Robertson's complaints ignored several times, but she was fired in retaliation. The company cited her alleged poor job performance and management style.
The jury made this decision intending to make a point that corporations cannot continue to discriminate against women. The forewoman said, "this is an opportunity to set the tone." This is tremendously encouraging. The Tartan hopes that this will set a precedent for women filing and winning cases against corporate giants. However, we have to realize that this is a limited victory.
There are some really fundamental differences between Sandra Robertson's and Ellen Pao's cases. Robertson and Pao were very different plaintiffs, venture capitalism and construction have very different work environments, and gender discrimination comes in many shapes and sizes.
We still have to be conscious that every case is unique and often evidence will not be so cut and dry. Robertson deserves praise for her courage and celebration for her victory, but those who fight for workplace equality cannot forget about Pao.