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Gender bias suit against Sandia Labs dismissed

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A class action lawsuit accusing Sandia National Laboratories of “systemic and pervasive” discrimination against female employees was dismissed recently in federal court.

U.S. District Judge James O. Browning dismissed with prejudice the suit brought by Lisa A. Kennicott, Lisa A. Garcia, Sue C. Phelps and Judi Doolittle.

Kennicott, Garcia and Phelps originally filed suit in February 2017. Doolittle later joined the suit.

“We are pleased the matter has been resolved,” Sandia Labs spokeswoman Heather Clark said. “Sandia National Laboratories embraces gender diversity in the workforce and provides equal opportunities for all employees. Women are encouraged to pursue fulfilling careers and work toward common goals at the labs.”

The women accused Sandia of a pattern of gender discrimination that allegedly used inherently biased performance evaluations to stunt women’s ability to achieve higher pay and promotions. They also alleged retaliation against female employees who complained about discrimination.

The court action described “a corporate culture infected with gender bias.”

The women sought class action certification that could have resulted in back pay, monetary damages and changes on behalf of all female lab employees.

The suit said an “unreliable” and “discriminatory” evaluation process, known as a “stack-ranking” system, undervalued female employees relative to males. Under the system, all employees in a peer group were ranked on performance from one to five, with one as worst and five as best.

“These brave plaintiffs have taken the difficult step of filing a lawsuit that is intended not merely to help themselves, but to change the playing field for women at Sandia,” said attorney Kelly Dermody in a statement at the time of the lawsuit.

But her law firm, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, one of the two national law firms to file the suit, declined comment on the dismissal of the suit.

Clark said women make up 32% of the employees at the labs, which employ about 11,500 people in New Mexico. She said the percentage is above average for Department of Energy laboratories.

“While it is higher than the DOE average, we continue to strive to increase the representation of women at Sandia National Laboratories,” she said.

Sandia was lauded for the diversity and inclusion of its workforce this year by Forbes magazine, Clark said. Forbes named Sandia to a list of 500 “best employers for diversity.”

The women sued Sandia Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of former lab manager Lockheed Martin Corp.

The labs are now operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Under the dismissal, the parties involved were to bear their own costs and fees.

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