MSLGroup faces gender discrimination lawsuit

NEW YORK: Monique da Silva, a former global healthcare director at MSLGroup, filed a $100 million class action lawsuit against Publicis Groupe and MSLGroup, alleging "systemic" discrimination against female PR employees.

NEW YORK: Monique da Silva, a former global healthcare director at MSLGroup, filed a $100 million class action lawsuit against Publicis Groupe and MSLGroup, alleging "systemic" discrimination against female PR employees.

The lawsuit was filed in US District Court in the Southern District of New York on February 24.

It seeks to represent a class of women who worked in the US for the PR firm from 2008 until date of judgment.

The lawsuit alleges that Publicis and MSLGroup paid female PR professionals less; did not promote female PR professionals at the same rate; and conducted discriminatory demotions, terminations, and reassignments for female staffers during the agency's reorganization.

It also alleges that da Silva and other female employees were wrongfully terminated after returning from maternity leave.

A spokesperson at MSLGroup said: "We generally do not comment on pending litigation, but we can say that the fact that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission dismissed Ms. da Silva's charge reflects the lack of merit to her claims."

Janette Wipper, the lawyer representing da Silva for firm Sanford Wittels & Heisler, said that da Silva filed her EEOC claim in February 2010 and was later issued a right-to-sue letter. She added that the EEOC claim is not admissible in court in the Second Circuit.

"The goal of the case is to change the policies of the company so there would be equal employment opportunities for women," said Wipper, "and that women would be represented in the senior management ranks at a level equal to how they're represented in the middle and entry-level ranks."

Publicis started a reorganization of its PR agencies in 2009 and created the MSLGroup brand to house its PR network, which includes MSL, Publicis Consultants, and Kekst & Company.

Da Silva, who was based in MSLGroup's Boston office and worked for the firm for 13 years, claims that Jim Tsokanos, president of MSL Americas, told her  during maternity leave that she would have to move to New York to run Publicis Consultants or face termination.

She was terminated January 7, 2010, three days after returning from maternity leave. 

Da Silva also alleges her salary was less than male counterparts at the agency. In addition, she claims she did not receive a salary increase for three years beginning in January 2007 although she was given increased responsibilities and male counterparts received salary increases during that time.

Ogilvy PR Worldwide hired da Silva as EVP and head of the North America healthcare practice in February 2010.

The suit cites a number of other former and current female PR professionals employed at MSLGroup. It alleges the firm terminated two VPs, Heather Wadia and Lorie Hirson, within weeks of returning from maternity leave, and that MSLGroup planned to demote Wendy Lund, who is now CEO of GCI Health.

It also addresses claims that Olivier Fleurot, CEO of MSLGroup, and Tsokanos created leadership teams made up of nearly all male executives, following the reorganization.

The lawsuit is seeking $100 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

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