What is the glass ceiling?

Does a female employee have any recourse under the law if she is continually passed over for promotions in favor of her male coworkers? What if her male coworkers continue to get raises while her pay remains stagnant?

This is effect is commonly called the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling refers to the metaphorical barrier that prevents a woman from advancing beyond a certain level at a company due to biases against women. For example, a woman might put in the same amount of work as a male coworker and have the same qualifications but never be promoted up to a senior level. This discriminatory practice is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sex. Sex discrimination is basing employment decisions and practices on an employee’s gender, whether male or female.

Title VII applies to employer with 15 or more employees, and it protects only employees and not independent contractors. Who is and is not an employee depends on whether the employer has the right to control how the worker performs his job and the economic realities of the worker’s dependence on his employee.

Glass ceiling cases arise where a woman has experience discrimination on the basis of her sex in an employer’s hiring or promoting practices. These practices can be intentionally discriminatory or can be unlawful because they have a disparate impact on women.

An intentionally discriminatory hiring practice for an executive position would express a preference for men over women. For example, an employer’s promotion criteria might include a preference against women.

Hiring and promotional practices that have a disparate impact on women are neutral on their face but significantly affect women more. Take, for example, an employer who only promotes to its upper echelons employees over six feet tall. This may not be explicitly discriminatory, but it will significantly and negatively affect women.