It’s bad enough when your company is accused of widespread sex discrimination in a class action suit. It’s even worse, however, when the plaintiff is one of your top in-house lawyers, the suit targets your legal department, and your company holds itself up as a model of good management.

But that’s the situation in which the General Electric Co. finds itself. Lorene Schaefer, the general counsel of its transportation division, filed a class action suit against the conglomerate on May 31 in federal district court in New Haven, Conn. She claims that more than 1,000 female lawyers and executives at GE have been subject to “systemic, companywide discriminatory treatment,” including lower pay and fewer promotions. Her action seeks $500 million in damages for the class.

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