New Zealand Law Society - Booz Allen in-house glass ceiling suit revived

Booz Allen in-house glass ceiling suit revived

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has upheld an appeal against a district court's decision to grant summary judgment to professional services consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc in a suit alleging discrimination against an in-house lawyer.

Booz Allen in-house lawyer Carla Calobrisi, aged 55 at the time, was demoted back to senior associate level in January 2011 and many of her responsibilities were transfered to two younger women.

She had joined Booz Allen in 2000 and had been promoted to Principal in 2004.

Ms Calobrisi was told that her demotion was due to workload changes and not her performance, and she was also told that the demotion was non-negotiable. She remained in her position and sought Principal positions in other Booz Allen departments, but was informed that her reputation had been ruined by the demotion.

After she raised concerns that her demotion was the result of age and gender discrimination, her supervisor suggested that Ms Calobrisi transition out of Booz Allen if she harboured such concerns. She left the company in October 2011, and the company then selected a 31-year-old male to fill her position.

Ms Calobrisi filed a lawsuit in May 2013, alleging sex-based discrimination. She alleged that Booz Allen maintained a glass ceiling that prevented female employees, particularly those who were older or in higher ranking positions, from advancing. 

Ms Calobrisi has presented evidence from seven former Booz Allen employees, all middle-aged women, who contend that they were targeted for adverse employment actions similar to those that Ms Calobrisi experienced.

The federal district court decided that this evidence would not be admissible at trial and did not consider it when granting on a motion by Booz Allen for summary judgment.

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has now released an unpublished opinion which finds that the district court should have considered admissibility of the other employee evidence, and the case has been remanded in part to the district court for determination as to whether it is admissible.

The Court of Appeals noted that while it is up to the district court to determine admissibility of the other employee evidence, from its "vantage point", some of the evidence appeared relevant.

"For example, members of Booz Allen's all-male 'Leadership Team' triggered several of the departures and each featured an abrupt demotion or revocation of responsibilities after eyars ot positive reviews, leading to a separation from Booz Allen employment that the company characterised as voluntary but that the witnesses characterised differently."