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Employers see spike in sexual bias suits

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What are the hot buttons of discrimination that make employees so angry and upset that they file charges against the companies they work for?

The answers come from the Jackson Lewis annual workplace issues survey. The national law firm, headquartered in White Plains, N.Y., specializes in workplace law, representing management.

According to the study of 234 businesses, "gender discrimination charges spiked in 2004." It was the most frequent complaint, cited by 58 percent of those surveyed.

Sexual discrimination "increased significantly over the past year," the law firm reports. The previous year, only 48 percent of the companies who were studied said sexual discrimination was "the leading charge."

At the same time, complaints of sexual harassment increased "slightly" - by 6 percent - over last year, when 57 percent named it.

A decade ago, however, 95 percent of the companies reported dealing with a sexual harassment issue - not necessarily leading to a lawsuit, however.

And here's some really good news: Racial discrimination no longer is the most common charge. In 2004, 49 percent of the employers cited it as the most frequent legal complaint, a decrease from 2003, when 54 percent of employers named it as No. 1.

Overall, the "number of workplace lawsuits remains relatively stable," the report notes. The percentage of employers who said they were sued by employees in 2004 and 2003 remained the same, at 57 percent.

Let's hope the number of lawsuits continues to decline and for a good reason - that fewer employees are being discriminated against.

Manufacturing hope: All the reports I get suggest that jobs in manufacturing are on the decline - and they've been that way for a long time. But a recent statement by John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, headquartered in Washington, gives hope in an indirect way.

Although employment in this sector of the economy will most likely remain the same in the short term, Engler tells it like it is when it comes to who will be hired when jobs are available. "U.S. manufacturing will no longer employ millions in low-skill jobs," said Engler. "Tomorrow's jobs will go to those with education in science, engineering and math and to those with high-skill technical training."

One of the reasons the job picture might change for skilled workers in manufacturing is that "current science and engineering workers are aging and preparing to retire in coming decades." That means the evolving exodus of baby boomers will open up opportunities in manufacturing - as well as every other segment of the U.S. labor market.

By any other name: "The economy may be looking up, the company may be raking in cash and still the layoffs continue, like a perverse form of natural selection, weeding out the talented and successful as well as the mediocre," according to Barbara Ehrenreich, author of "Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream" (Metropolitan Books, $24).

"Since the mid-'90s, this perpetual winnowing process has been institutionalized under various euphemisms such as downsizing,'right-sizing,' smart-sizing,'restructuring' and `de-layering' - to which we can now add the outsourcing of white-collar functions to cheaper labor markets overseas."

Whatever it's called, it's devastating for U.S. workers.


(Carol Kleiman is the workplace columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Send e-mail to


(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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