Qualcomm agrees to pay $19.5M to settle charges of bias against women

The female employees alleged, for example, that the company's promotion system was biased against them

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Qualcomm has agreed to pay US$19.5 million to settle a gender discrimination class action lawsuit that alleged that women at the company get lower pay and have lesser chances of promotion under its current programs.

The settlement on behalf of a class of about 3,290 female employees was reached before suit was filed, but still requires the filing of a class complaint and a move for preliminary approval of the agreement from a judge in a federal court in California, according to Sanford Heisler, the legal firm representing the women.

The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California alleges that in Qualcomm’s U.S. operations, women in science, technology, engineering, and math, known together as STEM, and related roles face discrimination in pay and promotions.

Women hold less than 15 percent of the jobs defined by the company as senior leadership positions, and women in STEM and related positions earn less than their male colleagues that are performing equal or substantially similar work. The pay and promotion discrimination is higher for women with caregiving responsibilities, according to the complaint.

The complaint was initiated by seven female STEM and related employees of Qualcomm, including a current employee. 

Qualcomm’s promotion policies are said to discriminate against women by basing promotions on a sponsorship model, whereby managers, the overwhelming majority of whom are male, must select the subordinates they wish to promote.

“There is no system whereby an employee may self-nominate for a promotion, with the exception of lobbying her manager,” according to the complaint. “The overwhelming majority of managers making promotion decisions are male.”

Qualcomm said in a statement Tuesday that it is committed to treating its employees fairly and equitably. “While we have strong defenses to the claims, we elected to focus on continuing to make meaningful enhancements to our internal programs and processes that drive equity and a diverse and inclusive workforce which are values that we share and embrace,” Christine Trimble, the company's vice president of public affairs, said in the statement.

The company and the women agreed to mediate their dispute in January. Both sides retained skilled labor economists to analyze the class data, according to court records.

Under the settlement, Qualcomm will also take steps to change its policies and practices to help eliminate gender disparities and foster equal employment opportunity going forward, Sanford Heisler said in a statement Tuesday.

The company is also required to hire independent consultants in industrial organizational psychology to provide recommendations on reducing gender disparities. An internal compliance official will ensure the company's implementation and continued compliance with the terms of the settlement.

Class members will get paid from the $19.5 million settlement fund depending on factors such as their pay in the company and their length of employment within the class period. The net amount in the fund after lawyers' fees and other allocations will be about $13 million and the average pre-tax recovery for class members is approximately $3,953, according to a court filing.