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Female sculptor files discrimination lawsuit against GM

Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press on

Published in News & Features

DETROIT -- Calling the automotive industry "one of the last old boys' clubs," a female clay modeler from Detroit on Wednesday slapped General Motors with a gender discrimination lawsuit, claiming her male counterparts are treated better than her and that there's an "overall sexist environment in sculpting at GM."

The lawsuit comes three years after GM named Mary Barra chief executive officer, making her the first woman -- and still the only woman -- to break the male-dominated industry's glass ceiling and hold the top position in an automotive company.

But that's Barra's story.

Clay sculptor Heather Anger, 38, had a different experience. Her lawsuit claims that her male counterparts make more money than she does -- even though they don't have college degrees and she has two -- receive more promotions and get away with sexual harassment at work. Perhaps most egregious is that GM knows all of this goes on, the lawsuit claims, but has said that it can't do anything about it.

For example, one manager allegedly once advised Anger that if she wanted to learn how to advance at GM , she should read the book "Seducing the Boys Club," the lawsuit states.

"We believe that there's widespread discrimination in this industry," said Anger's attorney, Deborah Gordon, who after four decades of handling gender discrimination cases was surprised to hear of these allegations in the clay modeling world.

"When my client went in and talked to HR about this, she was specifically told, 'Yes, you are being paid less because you're a woman and that's the way it is,'" Gordon said. "I thought, 'Wow.' This is something I was unaware of. ... There are still parts of the world that are still behind the times."

GM officials were not readily available for comment.

As for GM being run by a woman, Gordon said: "Great for that. It has nothing to do with how the women -- especially those not in the C suite -- are treated in the trenches. ... I don't recall (Barra) issuing any initiatives to ensure there is equal pay companywide. She certainly hasn't done anything in clay modeling. So the fact that they have a female (CEO) is irrelevant."

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, comes as the North American International Auto Show kicks into high gear in Detroit, where GM and the world's leading automakers are showcasing their newest vehicles.

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