Why Many Of Fortune's “Best Companies To Work For” Actually Aren’t

Photographed by Taylor Smith.
Earlier this year, Fortune released its annual list of 100 best companies to work for. Once again, the business publication partnered with Great Place To Work U.S. to spotlight companies with “executive team effectiveness, people-focused programs, high levels of trust, and camaraderie.”
According to Fortune, the companies are judged to ensure that employees consistently experience a positive workplace, regardless of who they are or their role in the company. Each company is scored on an analysis of anonymous employee responses to survey questions and must receive a 95% confidence level. Scrolling through Fortune’s online feature reveals details like employee diversity breakdown, paid time off, and perks — which include everything ranging from telecommuting to onsite gym to non-discrimination policies, including sexual orientation protections (which vary greatly by state).
Despite the splashy feature from Fortune and Great Place To Work, a surface amount of digging into public records revealed that 40 of the 100 companies on this list have been sued for either employee discrimination or sexual harassment (and in some cases, both) in the past five years.
Goldman Sachs, number 89 on Fortune’s list, is currently in the midst of an enormous class-action lawsuit on the basis of gender discrimination that denied female employees equal pay and opportunities. The suit, brought by Cristina Chen-Oster, began as a complaint against the bank with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2005. After being granted class-action status, the suit now represents more than 2,000 current and former Goldman Sachs employees.
Coming in at number 11, Deloitte lost a disability discrimination claim from a former employee in 2016 after the company forced her to take unpaid leave because she had tuberculosis. The company was also recently accused of covering up an alleged attempted rape of a female staff member at its Bermuda office as well as alleged interfering with the police investigation. According to NBC News, Deloitte spokesperson Jonathan Gandal denied the ex-employee’s allegations, saying the Australian Financial Review report cited “inaccurate information” and made “erroneous assumptions."
Salesforce, Fortune’s number-one best company to work for, had two federal discrimination lawsuits brought against its Indianapolis, IN, offices in 2016. The suits were filed by two Black and Puerto Rican employees, who claimed the company passed them over for promotions on several occasions on the basis of their gender and race. Refinery29 reached out to Salesforce for comment on these cases, and a company representative told us they do not comment on individual legal proceedings.
To be clear, our research consisted of reviewing press releases published by the EEOC as well as searching through other public records on Google, and was not part of an in-depth investigation. When we spoke with a representative from Fortune, they directed us to reach out to Great Place To Work for insight into whether recent lawsuits are addressed in any of their survey questions. Great Place To Work to did not respond for our request for comment.
Though some of the suits we found are still ongoing, others may have been settled in-house, though companies rarely release such details. In other cases, plaintiffs lost the claims. It’s worth noting that bringing a suit against an employer is not straightforward; one must first file a charge with the EEOC, and then the EEOC will investigate and make a determination on the merits of the charge, including a possibility of a right to sue. Statistics show that only 1% of these claims succeed in court, with most settling before they even make it to court.
And yet, the existence of these cases is still troubling, especially when attached to companies that are being publicly touted as “the best” workplaces by Fortune and Great Place To Work. It begs the question: With at least 42% of women facing some kind of sexual harassment at work, and 35.3% of all EEOC charges stemming from race-based discrimination, do big companies that are non-discriminatory toward women and nonwhite people even exist?
Fortune and Great Place To Work may not give these sexual harassment and discrimination claims consideration, but job seekers — especially women, immigrants, and nonwhite workers — with access to Google definitely should.
We reached out to Great Place To Work for comment about whether these lawsuits were factored into the methodology for determining the best places to work in the country. We will update this article if we receive a response.
Statement from Great Place To Work: With every list we do we do a search to identify any current law suits and discrimination claims, reexamine the employee feedback we’ve received, and evaluate whether this nullifies the input we have received from employees and disqualifies a company. Companies may continue to appear on a list even with an active suit if we determine that the case represents an isolated incident and does not represent employees’ likely experiences in the workplace based on the survey data we’ve analyzed. This analysis looks not only at what employees say the typical experience in the workplace is – but also how variable that experience is depending upon a person’s demographic background or position within the organization.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article mistakenly stated this list was released on October 15 when, in actuality, the 2018's World's Best Workplaces list was released on this date.

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