A new class action suit against Citigroup alleges that the financial giant used the recession as a convenient excuse for firing or demoting scores of female employees. The women in the lawsuit are claiming that they were sexually harassed while they were employed at Citigroup, and that the company laid off women at higher rates than men, even when the women were more qualified than their male counterparts. Additionally, one of the plaintiffs states that she was demoted as a result of taking maternity leave.

Unfortunately, Citigroup isn’t the only firm that participates in gender-based discrimination. Goldman Sachs has a lawsuit pending based on similar facts. A former VP says that she was fired as a result of taking maternity leave.

The irony here is that in general, men have been laid off at hire rates during the economic recession, largely due to the fact that men take home more pay than women. In fact, women still earn 78 cents for every $1 that a man makes, and for unmarried women, that gap is even larger. Unmarried women only make 56 cents for every $1 a man makes. The gender-based wage gap cannot be explained away by saying that women and men have different jobs and different qualifications. These wage disparities exist even when men and women are performing the same job. One upside to the economic downturn is that the high layoff rates for men may actually help them realize that advocating for pay equity is in their best interests.

You can do something about the persistent wage gap. Encourage your members of Congress to support the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would force businesses to eliminate paycheck disparities. Another thing you can do is talk to your coworkers about what they make. I know that money matters are typically taboo talk for the employee lunchroom, but how else will you know if you’re being compensated fairly?

How do lawsuits, like the ones pending against Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, influence your opinions about these companies? Does it influence your decision to use these companies? Why, or why not? I’d love to hear from you.