The gender discrimination class-action lawsuit against KPMG has grown, with five new named plaintiffs accusing the Big Four firm of denying promotions to women and penalizing them for taking maternity leave.
The law firm representing the female employees, Sanford Heisler Kimpel LLP, filed an amended complaint Friday against KPMG with the five new named plaintiffs. Last year, more than 1,000 current and former KPMG employees joined the class-action, although the vast majority preferred to remain anonymous (see 1,000+ KPMG Female Employees Join Discrimination Suit).
The estimated Title VII class is projected to include more than 10,000 women. The five additional class representatives joined the original plaintiff, Donna Kassman, a former KPMG senior manager, who filed suit against the firm in 2011, accusing KPMG of abruptly removing her from the promotion track after two male employees complained about her tone and direct approach (see KPMG Sued for Gender Discrimination). Four other female employees—Linda O’Donnell, Sparkle Patterson, Jeanette Potter and Ashwini Vasudeva—later joined the $400 million class-action lawsuit, and now the number is in excess of 1,000. The new named plaintiffs include Tina Butler, Cheryl Charity, Heather Inman, Nancy Jones and Carol Murray.
Charity, for example, was informed by her manager that he was surprised she “was still with the firm” because he believed that “single women” did not stay with the same job for long. When she raised the possibility of filing a formal complaint with KPMG’s HR department, a partner told her, “If you go to HR, it will turn on you.” Inman was told by her manager that she could not travel to work on some of the most lucrative accounts because she had young children at home. Even though a male colleague had a small child, she was told it was different because “you’re the mom.”
According to the amended complaint, KPMG promotes fewer women to partner (18 percent) than the industry average of 23 percent. KPMG also promotes fewer women to senior manager (35 percent) positions than the industry average of 44 percent.
“KPMG’s promotion rate falls below its competitors, even though KPMG has a similar number of female non-management employees (48 percent) as the industry (49 percent) to groom and mentor for leadership. Rather than reward high-performing female employees with partnership, KPMG tracks a disproportionate number of these women into non-partnership roles as career managers at drastically lower compensation levels.” Industry-wide, according to the complaint, 60 percent of female senior managers and 36 percent of female managers have followed lower paid non-partnership career tracks, compared to only 26 percent of male senior managers and 9 percent of male managers.
KPMG defended its behavior. “Two facts about the claims made by the plaintiff speak louder than any others: almost 90 percent of those eligible to have joined the collective action part of this lawsuit chose not to do so; and 86 percent of the small number that did join are not current KPMG employees,” said a statement forwarded to Accounting Today by KPMG spokesman Manuel Goncalves. “That is because the allegations that have been made are without merit. We do not believe that the addition of these five women changes anything in terms of our view of the lawsuit. KPMG has long been recognized as a great place to work and build a career, as well as a leader in fostering a diverse and inclusive culture. The firm is deeply committed to the career advancement of women and confronting the challenges women too often face in the workplace, and takes very seriously any concern about discrimination or unfair treatment. We could not be more proud of our culture and the fact that KPMG is replete with and led by many talented and successful women.”
According to the attorneys representing the women, their experiences are systemic, covering nine KPMG offices coast to coast, and at different job levels in a range of practice groups within the firm.
“If the more than 1,100 women who responded to the notice allowing them to join the collective action regarding Equal Pay Act claims weren’t proof enough, the inclusion of five additional class representatives clearly illustrates that KPMG’s gender discrimination problems are nationwide and persist to this day,” said Sanford Heisler attorney Maya Sequeira in a statement. “There is no merit to KPMG’s defense that experiences of discrimination at the firm are isolated or atypical, and this amendment takes the wind out of KPMG’s sails on that front.”
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