Dozens more women join MSL gender bias suit

NEW YORK: Twenty-eight more women have joined the class action lawsuit against MSLGroup and parent Publicis Groupe alleging gender pay discrimination.

NEW YORK: Twenty-eight more women have joined the class action lawsuit against MSLGroup and parent Publicis Groupe alleging gender pay discrimination.

The new additions bring the number of plaintiffs to 33. There are two current MSL employees in the class, including SVP Sheila McLean, a 12-year veteran of the firm according to her LinkedIn profile.

The remaining ex-employees include Nancy Brenner, former SVP and director of media relations; Stephanie Andrzejewski, now director of corporate affairs at AstraZeneca; and Krista Webster, now president and partner at Veritas Communications.

Further plaintiffs include Jaffe PR VP Zenata Hubbard; Ogilvy Public Relations VP Holly Richmond; Fleishman-Hillard SVP Kelly McKenna; and Ellyn Caravetta, who is a consultant at Continuum Solutions. Current job titles are taken from their LinkedIn profiles.

The date set for further individuals to join the suit has now passed. MSL Group employs 209 women in those offices involved in the lawsuit, 332 overall in the US. 

On Monday, US District Court Judge Andrew Carter Jr. denied Publicis' claim that it should be dismissed from the scope of the case because the New York court lacked jurisdiction over the French company.

Both sides will meet in a court conference on December 14, and it could be more than a year before a potential trial.

In August, the original group of five plaintiffs, headed by Monique da Silva Moore, a former healthcare director at MSL, mailed notices to 152 current and former female employees who had worked at MSLGroup at the VP or SVP level inviting them to join the lawsuit. Recipients had 60 days from the date of the notice's mailing to opt into the class.

“We remain confident that the Moore lawsuit has no merit, and we believe the relative lack of interest among the vast majority of those eligible to participate demonstrates the weakness of the claims. We will continue to defend ourselves vigorously against these baseless claims, as we have done in the nearly two years since the lawsuit was filed,” an MSL spokesperson said in a statement.

Asked how MSL was moving forward with current employees on the lawsuit, SVP and director of corporate communications Michael Echter said the firm's “attorneys are dealing with the suit, and we are focused on serving our clients and carrying out our strategies for the business.”

Attorney Janette Wipper, lead counsel for the plaintiffs at law firm Sanford Wittels & Heisler, said three current MSL employees opted into the lawsuit when they received the notices, one of whom has since departed the firm.

“Our belief is that [termination] was in retaliation for participation” in the lawsuit, Wipper added.

Echter responded: "The lawsuit is being handled by our attorneys. MSLGroup North America is very focused on our business. The personnel requirements of our agency are based solely on matching the skills of our talent with the needs of our clients and the business. The lawsuit is not a factor in any of our operations or personnel decisions."

Da Silva Moore filed the $100 million class action suit in February 2011 seeking to represent women who worked at the agency from 2008 until the date of judgment. It alleged MSL and Publicis paid female professionals less; did not promote women at the same rate as male counterparts; and conducted discriminatory demotions, terminations, and reassignments for female staffers during the agency's 2009 reorganization.

In April 2011, MaryEllen O'Donohue, Laurie Mayers, Heather Pierce, and Katherine Wilkins were added as plaintiffs to the suit.

Court documents filed in the suit describe senior male executives at the firm, including former North America president Jim Tsokanos and Washington MD Neil Dhillon, behaving in a derogatory manner toward female employees.

MSL promoted Renee Wilson to president of North America in August, replacing Tsokanos, who left the firm at that time.

* Story updated at 2.55pm on December 7 to reflect comments from plaintiffs' counsel and MSL's response after initial story published.

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