Penguin Group corporate communications leader Marilyn Ducksworth has sued the publisher for age discrimination.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday with New York's Supreme Court, Ducksworth, 56, alleges that Penguin conducted an “orchestrated, coordinated” effort to force her out in favor of younger employees. She resigned August 31 after 27 years at the company.
The complaint accuses Penguin president Susan Petersen Kennedy and other senior officials of "diminishing [Ducksworth's] executive responsibilities, dismantling her staff,” and “interfering with her internal and external professional relationships." Kennedy allegedly asked Ducksworth to demote two publicity staff members, both about 60 years old, and replaced them with employees under the age of 40. In another incident, Ivan Held, president of Penguin unit GP Putnam's Sons, allegedly told Ducksworth that the company wanted employees who were “faster, stronger, and more nimble because the older, slower version doesn't work anymore.”
Penguin denied the charges in a statement Wednesday.
“It was Marilyn Ducksworth's decision to resign,” the publishing house said. “Penguin does not condone, nor was there, any age discrimination or retaliation involved in her decision to leave.”
As SVP of corporate communications, executive director of publicity for GP Putnam's Sons/Riverhead Books, and associate publisher of Putnam, Ducksworth worked with such authors as Tom Clancy, Ken Follett, and Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz.
Ducksworth's case, however it is resolved, should serve as a cautionary tale for publishers facing mounting pressure to cut costs and keep up with digital advancements. As publishing moves forward, companies must be careful to communicate with employees of all ages and backgrounds about the value they bring to the industry.