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.

In a brief dated July 29, the women's lawyers said that Goldman's slicing and dicing of the data "all but guarantees that the results are not statistically significant" because it produces data cells "too small to analyze."

Goldman argues in its court filings that it's wrong to consider pay differences among associates and vice presidents at all, given the range of jobs an associate or vice president could be doing among the company's 140 business units. An associate or vice president could be working on mergers and acquisitions in the health care industry, or trading petroleum futures or structuring financial derivatives, among other assignments, according to Goldman. Thus, the firm argues that pay and promotion assessments should be made by business unit -- not job title.

The plaintiffs don't buy that idea. David L. Yermack, a finance professor at New York University's Stern School of Business hired by the women, said in a report dated Jan. 28, 2014 that no matter what business unit an entry-level associate works in, he or she needs "strong knowledge of financial statement analysis, discount rates and the time value of money, risk measurement, compounding and the like."

At the levels of associate and vice president -- the two job categories the plaintiffs are trying to represent in a class action -- "most staff have a common set of skills," Yermack wrote.

As for the question of whether those associates and vice presidents have the talent to make the cut at an "extreme" Goldman job, one expert for the plaintiffs put it this way in a July 25 report. "Dr. Campion completely ignores the self-selection of the population of women who choose to apply for and work at Goldman Sachs" wrote Wayne Cascio, who holds the Robert H. Reynolds Chair in Global Leadership at the University of Colorado Denver.

In other words, mediocre talent would be smart enough to know better than to pitch for one of Goldman's "extreme" jobs. Even if they were mediocre women.

Susan Antilla is an award-winning journalist and the Founding Fellow of TheStreet Foundation, a nonprofit organization with the goal of supporting and expanding financial literacy for consumers through investigative journalism and custom research on high-impact financial topics. She has been a financial journalist for 30 years, writing for The New York Times, USA Today and Bloomberg View, among others. Antilla is author of Tales From the Boom-Boom Room, the 2002 book that exposed a culture of sexual harassment at financial companies. She received a bachelor of arts degree from Manhattanville College and a master of arts in journalism degree from New York University. Antilla is an adjunct professor of journalism at Fairfield University.

If you liked this article you might like

Why Hurricanes Won't Force the Fed to Ditch a December Rate Hike

Fed Pares $4.5 Trillion Balance Sheet But Easy-Money Era Isn't Over

Bank Stocks Move Higher as Fed Decides to Start Unwinding Balance Sheet

Cramer: Goldman's Downgrade Of J&J Is 'Questionable'

Wall Street Looks Past Fed's $4.5 Trillion Balance Sheet for These Signals