Gender stereotypes cost a Florida dealership $500,000; decision should prompt companies to look at promotion practices

August 21, 2021

A Florida jury awarded $500,000 to a female sales manager at a Harley-Davidson dealership in punitive damages following a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for gender discrimination.

The EEOC alleged the woman was denied a promotion to a general manager position at its Tampa dealership because of her gender.

The dealership was one of five Harley-Davidson dealerships in Florida owned by Cigar City Motors. According to the evidence presented, Cigar City Motors had never promoted a female employee to general manager prior to the lawsuit.

Former general managers of Cigar City testified the woman was qualified for the position, but Cigar City believed her to be too “motherly” for the job.

Evidence also reportedly was presented that the woman was repeatedly passed over the promotion despite being equally or more qualified than the men selected. A male employee who was selected for a general manager position alleged that a Cigar City manager with influence in the decision-making made several derogatory remarks that women should not be in that role.

Eight jurors returned a unanimous verdict against Cigar City, holding that the company was motivated by gender in denying the promotion.

The EEOC praised the verdict as vindicating women who have long battled stereotypes at organizations like Cigar City that women could not be leaders. The EEOC suggested that the automotive industry view the verdict as a “wake-up call.”

“It’s time for the ‘good old boy’ method of selecting general managers for their dealerships to be retired,” the EEOC’s regional attorney said.

The EEOC’s trial attorney said, “This is a victory for women who work to prove themselves and break glass ceilings in male-dominated industries.”

The agency also suggested that the verdict should prompt organizations to “take a strong look at their promotion practices and ask themselves whether gender bias is playing a role in advancement opportunities.”

Gender stereotyping is quite common in businesses, and not just by those in the opposite gender.

A female leader recently admitted to me that she had been denying a younger subordinate a promotion under the assumption that female subordinate would not want to travel (a requirement of the promotion) while raising two small children.

Following implicit bias training, the female leader was able to self-reflect and identify her own biases and how those have impacted her decision-making.

Earlier this year, the Harvard Business Review cited an analysis by the Center for WorkLife Law that was engaged to evaluate bias in performance reviews at a law firm.

The Center for WorkLife Law found, among other things, that women were praised for being the equivalent of the “office mom” and Black women in particular were praised for doing the “office housework.” Women also were dinged for hitting what the review described as the “maternal wall.”

Society has long since normalized the roles for women as caregivers, undermining them as leaders. These stereotypes inevitably marginalize women and make it difficult for employers to view women as leaders.

As businesses assess their inclusion strategies, they should encourage discussions around implicit and unconscious bias, in addition to reviewing job descriptions and processes in place for hiring, promotions, assignments, compensation and other opportunities.