Male Tax Lawyer Pleads: Put Me In, Coach, I’m Ready to Play against ‘Girl Power’

In a lawsuit that combines leather goods, tax lawyers and tales of domineering Amazonian women, a former in-house counsel at Coach, Inc., has accused the company of reverse sex discrimination.

Todd Lenart, the former Divisional Vice President of International Tax at Coach, claims that he suffered a hostile work environment and discriminatory termination because he is a male.  Lenart unpacked a bagful of emasculating allegations against Coach in his federal court complaint, including claims that the Senior Vice President of Coach’s Treasury Department said on numerous occasions she wanted “a staff of all women,” and stating that she had created “a girl power team based in New York.”  This prompted Lenart’s co-workers to comment that the SVP wanted a “team of Amazon women” (this was not a reference to the Seattle-based company founded by Jeff Bezos).  Lenart also alleged that Coach had a practice of subjecting male applicants to additional hurdles – such as psychological tests – that female applicants did not have to endure.

Lenart’s allegations survived a motion to dismiss in September, and now will be subjected to the scrutiny of discovery and depositions, and possibly trial.

Employers struggle every day to promote diversity aggressively without crossing the line into blatant reverse discrimination.  The gender wage gap and the glass ceiling remain issues, even with national retailers like Coach that serve a customer base primarily of women.  One can therefore understand the desire of executives at Coach and elsewhere to look for opportunities to promote women.  Nevertheless, the law continues to require equal opportunity for all (male and female, white and black, Christian and atheist), and if the allegations against Coach hold up, the company might need to open its hand-rubbed, snakeskin purse for a settlement or verdict payment.

Tips for promoting diversity and equal opportunity without crossing into reverse discrimination:

  • Get buy-in on the importance of diversity from the top – e.g., the CEO.
  • Expand efforts to recruit a diverse pool of candidates for every opening.
  • Train managers on equal opportunity – including (1) avoiding stereotypes, (2) avoiding the natural tendency to hire “someone like me,” and (3) prohibiting reverse discrimination (no “girl power” departments).
  • Do not establish diversity quotas and do not designate specific jobs or departments as being set aside for any demographic group.
  • Consider evaluating efforts to promote diversity and equal opportunity in manager performance reviews and bonus decisions.

Michael Homans is a Labor & Employment attorney and Chair of the Litigation Department at Flaster Greenberg PC. For more employment law updates, including news and links to important information pertaining to legal developments that may affect your business, subscribe to Michael’s blog, or follow him on Twitter @EmployLawUpdate.

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