EMC denies sexual harassment, bias charges in lawsuit

Plaintiffs contend discrimination against women forces many to leave storage vendor

EMC on Thursday said that a lawsuit filed by two former employees charging the company with sexual misconduct and gender bias is without merit. Further, a spokesman for EMC dismissed a Wall Street Journal article Wednesday about the lawsuit as a "chess move" by the plaintiff's legal team trying to drum up interest in the case.

A federal judge will hear arguments next week about whether the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Illinois in November 2004 by former workers Tami Remien and Debra Fletcher, can be expanded into a class-action suit.

Remien and Fletcher, who worked for Massachusetts-based EMC as salespeople in its Chicago office, claim that the company practiced sex discrimination while they worked at the company between 1999-2003, according to the lawsuit.

The women allege that EMC's discriminatory conduct included failure to hire and promote women; failure to credit women for their experience on the same basis as male employees; systemically paying women lower wages; creating an environment hostile and offensive to women; making employment decisions based on sex stereotypes; and defaming women to their clients, co-workers and corporate partners.

The plaintiffs argue that the resulting lack of opportunity for career advancement and hostile work environment forced them to resign from EMC.

Attorneys for the women could not be reached for comment.

Remien alleges that when a sought-after sales position opened at EMC in June 2001, she was passed over for a male employee because she was told by managers that she would not "smoke, drink, swear, hunt, fish and tolerate strip clubs." According to the lawsuit, Remien's complaints to EMC's human resources personnel proved fruitless.

EMC spokesman Mark Fredrickson said that the gender-bias accusations by Remien and Fletcher in the lawsuit are false. "[The lawsuit] has financial motivations which will be addressed in the legal system," he said, adding that "at EMC we're going to do more than what we can to bring more women into IT," he added.

Fredrickson said that EMC has doubled the number of women at the vice president and senior vice president levels over the past five years, and nearly tripled the number of females at the director level. "We have thousands of successful women at EMC," he said.

In the lawsuit, the women specifically charge EMC district manager Rick Otten with sexual harassment and discriminatory actions. Frederickson called Otten an "outstanding employee" with a very successful track record at EMC. "The company looked at this extensively and if he had done things alleged in the lawsuit, he would not longer be with EMC," Frederickson said.

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