Fighting for Women's Equality

EEOC Discrimination Charge Filed on Behalf of Hanna, a Gold Miner

January 13, 2015 | by

Equal Rights Advocates, representing gold miner Hanna Hurst, has filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that Sumitomo Metal Mining discriminated against her because of her sex and subjected her to dangerous retaliation when she complained.

Hanna began working in the Alaska gold mine in 2007, one of very small number of women to ever work underground there. She was repeatedly passed over for promotion opportunities, even as she watched men with less training and seniority rise through the ranks. The mine company’s “tap on the shoulder” promotion policy meant that only those singled out by supervisors were considered for promotions, and that no women made it to the top mining positions, known as Level 5.

While she worked hard and wanted to move up, Hanna frequently confronted hostile, sexist attitudes toward women at the mine. In one instance, a male training supervisor created and distributed an offensive sticker depicting a male figure kneeling before a female figure whose legs were spread, with the caption, “a miner’s work is never done.” Many mine workers wore these stickers on their hard hats, supervisors stuck them to their clipboards, and mechanics placed them on their toolboxes, making it impossible to avoid the image or ignore it. After she reported discrimination, Hanna faced retaliation from co-workers and managers that made her fear for her own safety. She was forced to leave her job at the mine after working there for over seven years and waiting for more than two years to be promoted to a Level 5 position.

“Although I loved my job, the experience of working at Sumitomo Metal Mining was extremely challenging,” said Hanna. “In addition to the rigors of being a miner, combating sexism and managing the hostile work environment took a heavy toll on me. My hope is that no woman has to go through what I went through in the mine.”

Male-dominated workplaces and industries present unique challenges to women workers, including workplace cultures steeped in misogyny and gender stereotypes. “Tap on the shoulder” promotion policies are all too common, enabling discrimination to persist and failing to ensure that women are given equal opportunities. Reporting discrimination is made even more difficult in environments like mines, where workers entrust their physical safety to each other.

“ERA has a long history of representing women in male-dominated industries who want to stand up for fairness and dignity at work,” said ERA Legal Director Jennifer Reisch. “Hanna’s case is unfortunately a classic example of what can go wrong when companies in these industries fail to ensure safety and equitable treatment for the women willing to take on these challenging jobs in tough environments.”

To learn more about ERA’s efforts to combat sex discrimination in male-dominated industries, read more about our marginalized women workers campaign.

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