Woman Files Discrimination Lawsuit Against Tulsa-Based Toolmaker

April 10, 2009

A woman has filed a federal class action lawsuit against a Tulsa, Okla.-based construction industry toolmaker, claiming gender discrimination.

Plaintiff Ronica Tabor alleges in a complaint that a district manager at Hilti North America told her that women had to work harder than men to learn how to use and sell tools, “because tools are like guns, which come natural to men.”

Tabor also alleges the manager told her to discuss the position she was interviewing for with her husband because “she had a young child.”

Susie Wellendorf, a spokeswoman for the company, said Tabor’s claims were without merit and that Hilti would “vigorously defend itself against these false allegations.”

Hilti, with nearly 21,000 employees in more than 120 countries, bases its U.S. operations in Tulsa. The company makes and sells tools to the construction industry.

Tabor claims that after recounting what happened to the human resources department, a representative in that office told her “she needed to be stronger in the future and not get upset about matters such as these,” according to the complaint.

The human resources official also assured her that what happened would not affect her future with the company, and told her to “brush what happened under the rug and move on.”

But a day later, Tabor claims she was informed she was no longer a candidate for promotion. The regional manager reportedly told her she needed “more product knowledge” and reclassified her as a “P2,” meaning that she would not be ready for promotion for up to two more years.

Tabor resigned in November 2007.

The lawsuit claims that while women fill a “substantial percentage” of the entry-level sales positions at Hilti, “over 90 percent of the employees in the second-level sales jobs are men, and very few if any women rise to higher-level positions.”

Tabor had interviewed for a second-level position. She claims the two open positions she interviewed for were awarded to men.

“Women are denied the ability to rise above this glass ceiling because Hilti both engages in a pattern of intentional discrimination and uses practices that are neutral on their face but have the effect of discriminating against women,” the lawsuit claims.

“You have a real extreme difference,” Tabor’s attorney, Dan Smolen, said. “There’s a serious problem with the promotion and hiring process.

“A lot of people are out of a job right now. What you have to look at, even though the economy is bad, you have to ensure male and female employees, black and white employees, are being treated the same,” he said.

Wellendorf said Tabor’s discrimination claim filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was dismissed, and added that her lawsuit “omits a number of relevant facts and misstates others,” such as a claim that there are no female vice presidents in the company.

“In fact, the plaintiff’s own department head, a vice president, is a woman who was recently promoted to the executive management team of Hilti North America,” she said.

Smolen wants other former and current Hilti employees to contact his firm if they have information about similar discrimination practices at the company.

Tabor is seeking unspecified damages, including back pay and monetary losses as a result of losing the promotion, among others.

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