The lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges that Goldman has violated federal and New York City laws by engaging in a systematic "pattern and practice" of discrimination against female professionals at the firm. They are asking a federal judge to certify the case as a class-action suit on behalf of the firm's women employees.
The three, who were a vice president, a managing director and an associate, also are seeking damages from Goldman for emotional distress they say they've suffered and for lost income.
"We believe this suit is without merit," Goldman spokesman Lucas van Praag in New York said in a statement. "People are critical to our business, and we make extraordinary efforts to recruit, develop and retain outstanding women professionals."
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in New York.
Goldman Sachs, with some 34,000 employees, is one of the most powerful and influential firms on Wall Street. The employees' suit cites 2009 company figures showing that women represented 29 percent of Goldman's vice presidents and 17 percent of its managing directors. Figures from 2008 had women representing only 14 percent of the firm's partners, the complaint said.
The three women are H. Christina Chen-Oster, who was a vice president for eight years in Goldman's convertible bonds department; Lisa Parisi, a vice president and later a managing director for a total seven years in the firm's asset management division; and Shanna Orlich, who worked as an associate in the capital structure franchise trading group for a year.
They say in their suit that as a result of Goldman's discriminatory policies and practices, female employees have been paid less and promoted less often than their male colleagues with equivalent experience and abilities.
"The violations of its female employees' rights are systemic, are based upon companywide policies and practices, and are the result of unchecked gender bias that pervades Goldman Sachs' corporate culture," the suit alleges. "They have not been isolated or exceptional incidents, but rather the regular and predictable result of Goldman Sachs' companywide policies and practices."
Among other things, the former employees maintain, the firm gives its managers — the vast majority of whom are men — wide discretion to assign responsibilities and opportunities to their subordinates. The most promising assignments, fostering career advancement and better pay, most frequently go to men, they contend.