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Gender bias in severance settlements, says UVIC professor Dr. Ken Thornicroft

Ken Thornicroft is a well known labour and employment law academic and adjudicator in BC.

He is currently a professor at the University of Victoria, Gustavson School of Business and a member of the BC Employment Standards Tribunal.

Recently he has been studying the issue of gender bias in negotiated  and wrongful dismissal severance awards, and presented a paper that touched on this topic at the CLEBC Employment Law Conference in 2011. That paper can be found here: "Appellate Review of "Reasonable Notice" Awards in Canada: 2000-2010".

On June 4, 2012, UVIC issued this news release concerning his research:

Gender Bias In Severance Settlements

Whether they go to court to settle a wrongful dismissal claim or negotiate a settlement on their own, women get fewer weeks of severance pay than men, according to research by Dr. Ken Thornicroft, professor of business law and employment relations at the Gustavson School of Business.

Thornicroft's findings come from a study of decisions issued by provincial and territorial courts of appeal from 2000 to 2011 and an experiment he conducted over seven years with his business students about reasonable notice entitlements.

"Women face a marked disadvantage when negotiating severance pay settlements, which in some cases could mean a loss of several months' pay," says Thornicroft. "What's disturbing about the findings is that an anti-female bias is equally demonstrated by women and men-the males recovered nearly two months' additional notice than did the females in the negotiation experiment."

Thornicroft says results from the appellate courts' study indicate that women are systematically awarded about 1.5 to 1.7 months less notice than similar male litigants. He says a potential solution-beyond recognizing that this is an issue-is to establish a legislated formula for calculating reasonable notice. "A statutory formula would eliminate the issue of gender from coming into play, and reduce the potential for costly court cases," he says.

The Vancouver Sun ran a story the next day ("UVic studies show gender bias in severance pay") in which it was further revealed that:

  • The study on gender bias in negotiations is slated for publication this summer in the Journal of Workplace Rights; and 
  • The study of appeal court decisions is being considered for publication by the Canadian Labour and Employment Law Journal.