Tech Industry

Qualcomm agrees to pay $19.5 million in gender discrimination settlement

Plaintiffs in the class action suit said women at Qualcomm were paid less than "the men who work beside them."

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Qualcomm agreed to pay $19.5 million to current and former women employees in a settlement agreement.

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Qualcomm has agreed to pay $19.5 million as part of a settlement in a gender discrimination suit affecting about 3,300 women, both current and former employees of the chipmaker.

The plaintiffs in the class action suit said women at Qualcomm make less than men and were promoted less frequently than "the men who work beside them," as a result of employment policies, practices and procedures, according to a preliminary approval brief. Also at issue was the treatment of working mothers. The women said various policies including 24-hour responsiveness and a culture that rewarded working late basically penalized them for having caregiving responsibilities.

As part of the settlement, Qualcomm will also implement new policies to ensure that women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) roles have equal job opportunities, according to a statement Tuesday. The company has not admitted to any of the allegations, according to the final settlement agreement.

"While we have strong defenses to the claims, we elected to focus on continuing to make meaningful enhancements to our internal programs and processes that drive equity and a diverse and inclusive workforce which are values that we share and embrace," said Christine Trimble, Qualcomm's vice president of public affairs, in a statement.

Discrimination cases involving women in tech haven't always yielded these types of results. Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao lost her sexual discrimination case against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins in March 2015. Meanwhile, major tech companies regularly disclose low diversity numbers that get even lower as positions become more senior.

A notable element to this settlement is that it was reached before the plaintiffs actually filed the suit in federal court this week. This stemmed from pre-suit analysis of Qualcomm's employment and payroll data, according to a statement, as well as several months of negotiations.

"It is common knowledge that women in STEM and other related fields face persistent discrimination in pay and promotions," said David Sanford, chairman of Sanford Heisler and lead counsel for the plaintiff class in a statement. "This settlement represents a giant leap forward toward leveling the playing field and can serve as a model of best practices for other technology companies."

Sanford also praised the fact that the parties reached a settlement without a court battle.

In a court filing, attorneys for the women called the settlement "remarkable," saying it's "one of the largest employment discrimination settlements in recent years."

For Qualcomm, some of the next steps are bringing in independent consultants agreed upon by all parties who specialize in industrial organizational psychology. Those consultants will make an assessment of Qualcomm's practices and policies and make recommendations. Other changes will includes educating employees on non-discrimination policy and investing in leadership development initiatives, the statement said.

The settlement is subject to the court's approval.