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6 Execs Allege Bayer's Policy on Kids Is: "Get a Nanny or Get Out"

Bayer (BAYRY) has been served with a sex discimination class action suit similar to the case that produced a $250 million verdict against Novartis (NVS) last year.

The Bayer case alleges that women can only get to management if they either have no children or if they have nannies, and that one of the chief enforcers of this policy is nanny-favoring women's healthcare vp Leslie North, whose alleged motto is, don't "use childcare as an excuse." The suit claims women can only get ahead at Novartis if they sacrifice their "work-life balance," and it uses the child-raising status of the company's own management as evidence against it:

Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals' Executive Committee, which represents the highest level of management attainable within the Company, exemplifies this disparity: only three of approximately eleven permanent committee members are women.
The few women who have advanced beyond the director level and into the highest echelon of management have achieved this rank by sacrificing their personal lives and abandoning work-life balance. Female Vice President of Global Health Economics and Outcomes Research Kathleen Gondek is unmarried with no children, female Senior Director Susan Herster has no children, and female Vice Presidents Shannon Campbell and Leslie North have others who serve as primary care-givers for their children.
North (pictured) is singled out in the suit:
Defendant North has a reputation within the Company for preferring employees without primary childcare responsibilities. She has stated on multiple occasions her belief that children should be raised by nannies and that having a nanny is the solution to work being first. She has also selected less-qualified employees in her hiring decisions rather than more-qualified employees with primary childcare responsibilities.
Because management executives at Bayer have to travel a lot, "Leslie North frequently warns employees not to 'use childcare as an excuse'," the suit claims.

The claims in the Bayer case are less dramatic than those in the Novartis litigation. At Novartis, HR threatened to fire a sales rep who was raped by a customer and women alleged they were fired if they got pregnant.) At Bayer, the six plaintiffs claim they were paid less, ridiculed or denied promotions, often because they got pregnant or took family leave they were entitled to by law. Bayer says the case only tells one side of the story:

Bayer denies the allegations of gender discrimination and will vigorously defend itself against these charges. Bayer will not comment further on pending litigation, other than to note that it is committed strongly to a policy of non-discrimination and equal treatment for all employees.
The case raises one of the thorniest issues in HR: how to handle key executives who leave work to have children. The law bans discrimination against the pregnant worker, but everyone knows that a birth will at least lead to an absence from work of several weeks or months and that there is a good chance the employee will choose not to come back at all. The new mom's colleagues are left with a choice: Plow on under the assumption that she will return or plan for the eventuality that she won't.

The situation is compounded when it comes time for promotions: Does management reward the employee who never left the office or the parent whose work history now includes a lengthy absence? It's an unattractive dilemma: Reward the parent and you're sending a frustrating message to those who didn't take leave. Don't reward the parent and you may be breaking the law.

The solution is probably for management to realize that businesses don't generally fall apart if a single employee takes leave or cannot occasionally travel. If that seems to be the case at your firm, then this should be taken as a sign of your own bad management -- you're too dependent on that employee and need to come up with a more sensible way of working.


Image by Flickr user mahalie, CC 2.0
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