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Can Goldman Sachs' Women Make the Cut in 'Extreme Jobs?'

This article was originally posted on TheStreet Foundation Web site.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Could it be that women at Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report)   just don't have what it takes to be winners at their "extreme jobs?"

That's a question that's come under discussion in the long-running battle between Goldman and three women who sued the firm for sex discrimination in 2010.

Among dozens of briefs and exhibits filed in Manhattan federal court over the past month in the H. Cristina Chen-Oster et al. v. Goldman Sachs case are expert reports and snippets of depositions that ponder whether pay differences between men and women might be related to how tough the job is.

Nope, we haven't time-traveled back to the 1980s and women who wear suits with bowties. This stuff was getting discussed late last year by a big-shot management professor at Purdue University who was hired by Goldman as an expert witness.

"We cannot deny the fact that there are differences between men and women and those differences possibly can show up in extreme jobs like this and it's a very plausible issue," said Purdue professor Michael A. Campion in a Dec. 30, 2013 deposition that hit the court file on Aug. 12. "But I'm not concluding that it's the case or why it's the case or whether it's happening here."

An emergency room nurse in a for-profit hospital is "not normally" performing an "extreme job," Campion said in the deposition. But ER doctors are, he said.

And so are the associates and vice presidents in revenue-producing divisions of Goldman Sachs, Campion testified. That's of importance in the Chen-Oster case because the plaintiffs are seeking to have the court certify them as representatives of a class of 2,300 current and former associates and vice presidents -- aka "extreme" workers -- who say they were discriminated against when it came to pay and promotions at the firm.

In Campion's view, an "extreme" job is one that involves "long work hours, responsibility for profit and loss, a fast pace work environment, events outside of regular work hours and related features common to Goldman Sachs," according to his report. While he testified that he did not have the data to draw a conclusion as to whether women make less because of the demands of an extreme job, he said it is "plausible" and that "it's a consideration that's not minor."

The women's experts have come up with statistics that show statistically significant differences in pay and promotion levels between men and women at Goldman, so the other side needs to come up with some sort of explanation. So why not put the idea out there that maybe women can't cut it in high-demand jobs?

The two sides in the Chen-Oster case recently filed briefs arguing for and against allowing the case to proceed as a class action. An expert for the women said female associates at Goldman are paid 8% less than males and female vice presidents are paid 21% less. The women's expert also said that 23% fewer female vice presidents were promoted to managing director than their male counterparts.

Goldman said in a brief dated July 4 and added to the court docket on July 25 that those statistics were "essentially meaningless."

Goldman's experts crunched the numbers differently, examining smaller groups of employees and concluding that compensation differences were "insignificant or favorable" for female associates in 90% of the business units and for female vice presidents in 76% of the business units.

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