A former employee has sued Strategic Financial Solutions, LLC, alleging in a proposed collective action that she experienced gender-based wage discrimination, a hostile work environment and retaliation for speaking out against the Buffalo, New York debt relief company’s employment practices.
The plaintiff, an African American woman who worked for Strategic Financial Solutions for more than eight years and reportedly received a number of strong performance evaluations, claims she was repeatedly denied promotions in favor of “less qualified male” employees and subject to retaliation for making gender-based wage complaints and speaking up about an encounter in which a co-worker allegedly made unwanted sexual advances while the two were staying at a Buffalo hotel in June 2019.
Roughly three years after her 2012 hiring, the plaintiff, who worked in 2015 as a “litigation support supervisor,” began to notice Caucasian and male employees in similar or even lower-level positions being paid rates higher than hers, the lawsuit claims. In 2016, the plaintiff applied for a promotion and, after a first-round interview in which she was told she would advance to the second round, was abruptly denied the opportunity to continue interviewing, the case alleges. According to the suit, the position was given instead to “a less senior and less qualified” male worker, the same individual the plaintiff alleges made unwanted advances toward her at a Buffalo hotel.
Though the plaintiff’s title was changed following these events, she did not receive a pay raise, the lawsuit says, claiming the plaintiff again tried for a promotion in 2018 and was again denied such in favor of a “less qualified” male employee.
In or around mid-June 2019, the plaintiff was told to travel to Buffalo to meet with the defendant’s management team and was assigned to the individual who received the promotion over her in 2016, per the complaint. According to the lawsuit, after a night out for food and drinks with senior managers, the plaintiff and the individual, neither of whom were intoxicated, went back to their hotel.
The lawsuit claims that about 20 minutes after the plaintiff had undressed and gotten into bed, the manager to whom she was assigned called her hotel room, saying he could not sleep and asking if he could come down. The plaintiff turned down this request and told the man she was already in bed, but the individual continued to try and persuade the plaintiff to let him come to her room despite her protests, the lawsuit says. According to the complaint, the individual said to the plaintiff, “What happens in Buffalo, stays in Buffalo,” and continued to pressure the plaintiff to allow him to come down to her hotel room, even if just to watch television.
The man eventually came down and knocked on the plaintiff’s door for “a full fifteen (15) minutes,” pleading to come in before walking away after the plaintiff sternly said he would not be allowed in, according to the complaint.
“The following day, [the manager] acted like nothing happened,” the lawsuit claims. “[The plaintiff] felt extremely uncomfortable and embarrassed by the situation, and she was required to work closely with him.”
Upon returning to New York City, the plaintiff immediately reported the incident to human resources, the suit says. According to the complaint, however, human resources said to the plaintiff, “Well, it didn’t happen on company time so it’s not our problem,” with the HR representative allegedly making “several comments” during this interaction in which she suggested the plaintiff was somehow responsible for the incident.
“Based on the meeting with [human resources], it was clear that Defendants did not have procedures in place to handle this type of situation,” the lawsuit claims.
Within three days, the plaintiff, without prior consultation, was called into a meeting with the individual she says made advances toward her in Buffalo, the lawsuit says. The complaint says the plaintiff “immediately felt blindsided and extremely uncomfortable” about the situation, given she was instructed by HR to “sit in a room with [the manager] and tell him why she felt upset.”
Ultimately, the defendants “failed to take any action to remedy the situation,” the lawsuit alleges, stating the manager was not subject to any further investigation or discipline in relation to the plaintiff’s claims.
In August 2019, the plaintiff discovered that a male employee in her department who was hired in 2018 and 10 years her junior was receiving $15,000 more per year in salary than she was, the lawsuit says. The plaintiff spoke with several female colleagues who said they made the same amount as her and deduced that the defendant “had two different pay scales” for male and female employees who performed the same job duties, the complaint claims.
The plaintiff once again went to human resources, this time to complain about the alleged gender pay gap and was ultimately given “the runaround,” the suit claims. The plaintiff’s gender pay gap complaints remained unresolved even after a meeting with the head of human resources for the defendant, per the complaint.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff requested a transfer to the sales department due to her unheeded complaints about the apparent gender pay gap and the discomfort and stress of having to work with the manager who she alleges attempted to come into her hotel room. Once she was transferred, however, the plaintiff began receiving disciplinary warnings, she claims.
Once in her new sales role, the plaintiff came to learn that a man with “no management experience” interviewed for the same position she held previously and was offered a substantially higher annual salary.
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the plaintiff was told to work from home, the case continues. Despite the circumstances surrounding the transition and a substantial dip in new sales leads, the plaintiff was told she would be subject to a “zero tolerance system” under which she would be fired automatically should she be unable to meet her sales quota, the lawsuit claims.
After failing to meet the defendant’s quota, the plaintiff received a written warning before she was ultimately fired on April 14, 2020, the lawsuit alleges. According to the suit, the plaintiff “learned that most employees in her department were not able to reach their sales quota in March and April 2020, yet many did not receive a written warning or were terminated.”
“[The plaintiff] was terminated for her numerous complaints about the gender pay gap between male and female employees and about the sexually hostile work environment,” the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit alleges violations of the Equal Pay Act, New York Labor Law and New York State Human Rights Law.
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