Ikea’s former United States human resources navigator has filed a proposed class action lawsuit against the company and two top executives. The plaintiff alleges the retailer systematically paid women less than men while maintaining a strategic initiative that favored employees under 40 years old for management positions. The plaintiff, who filed the suit in Pennsylvania federal court, further alleges defendants Ikea North America Services, LLC; Ikea Distribution Services, Inc.; and Ikea U.S. Holdings, Inc. ultimately retaliated against her, “ensuring that her lengthy career with Ikea would come to an end,” due to her repeated inquiries into and knowledge of apparent gender pay inequities.
Filed in the wake of a February 2018 case detailing similar age discrimination allegations, the plaintiff’s claims are laid out on a timeline that begins with Ikea’s supposed institutionalization of a succession plan for management positions that, as far back as 2012, formalized the company’s aim to recruit “younger people” for such roles while consciously tip-toeing around any potential Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) concerns. Around 2012 and through 2013, when the plaintiff was tasked with exploring the potential for Ikea to pay a “living wage” to its employees, the suit says, the woman, working with a third-party consultant firm, supposedly uncovered substantial pay equity issues.
Per the suit, the plaintiff’s work showed that several female managers at certain stores “were making disproportionately less money than men in substantially equivalent positions.” Also during this time, the lawsuit adds, the plaintiff interviewed for a promotion into a Country HR Manager position with Ikea for which she was supposedly “fully and well-qualified” yet was turned down in favor of a woman under the age of 40, one of the case’s individual defendants.
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff informed a superior of the supposed gender pay inequity at certain Ikea stores, suggesting a meeting be held to address the problem, but was told “not to do so.” What followed, the lawsuit claims, was a series of events that saw the plaintiff not only repeatedly express concerns to the individual defendants about Ikea’s potential legal liability stemming from alleged gender pay inequities, but requests for the woman to remove slides particularly relevant to the matter from a presentation. At a subsequent meeting, the suit says, a previously brainstormed need for a pay equity audit—which the suit says the individual defendants decided would be too great of an expense—was not discussed, according to the suit.
In March 2014, the plaintiff reportedly asked to meet specifically with the individual defendants, again concerning pay equity concerns. When the parties finally did meet, the case says, the plaintiff was told that her job had been eliminated effective August 31.
“[The plaintiff’s] position was eliminated because [the plaintiff] raised the good faith belief that Ikea was in violation of the law for failing to pay women the same amount as men in equivalent positions,” the complaint reads.
The complaint states from here that several “alternate facts” were presented by one of the individual defendants—IKEA’s former US Human Resources Country Manager—with regard to why the plaintiff’s position had been eliminated. None of the individual’s reasons for axing the plaintiff’s job were truthful, the woman claims, alleging they served merely as “pretext for the discriminatory and retaliatory motives” for her termination.
The first of the lawsuit’s 10 counts puts a pin in the general totality of the plaintiff’s allegations:
“This systematic underpayment was part of a bias on Ikea’s part against women employees which Ikea refused even to explore through an audit until after [the plaintiff’s] employment was terminated, notwithstanding [the plaintiff’s] own warning to not only Ikea but also [the individual defendants].
[The plaintiff’s] gender was a motivating factor in the adverse actions Ikea took against her, including, but not limited to the failure to hire her to multiple positions for which she was qualified and the termination of her employment not once, but twice.
[The plaintiff’s] age was a determinative factor in the adverse actions Ikea took against her, including, but not limited to the failure to hire her to multiple positions for which she was qualified and the termination of her employment not once, but twice.”
The lawsuit includes many twists and turns and can be read in full below.