Agencies HIt By Discrimination Suits, Latest Calls IPG 'Systematic'

As the diversity issue gains new momentum in Adland, a series of discrimination lawsuits has been filed against agencies and holding companies.

The latest was filed Monday in New York District Court by a legal department employee of the Interpublic Group, Joy Noel, who alleges the company has systematically denied people of color the same opportunities as whites at least since 1994.

Noel, a native of Trinidad, alleged in her complaint filed April 16 that she had been passed over for promotions and raises several times during her nearly 20 years of employment at IPG in violation of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race. She is seeking $50 million in punitive damages from IPG.

Asked for comment, IPG stated: “Interpublic Group is committed to setting an example as an inclusive, diverse and cooperative workplace where everyone is valued and treated with respect. This is true across our company, including in our first-rate corporate legal department. We are saddened and disturbed by the allegations set forth in Ms. Noel’s claim and are certain there is no basis for any of the charges she alleges. We will vigorously defend against this complaint.”



The suit comes just days after the unveiling of a new diversity study of the ad industry by Tangerine Watson, the multicultural agency and media recruitment firm that revealed the widely held perception that career advancement takes longer for minorities. As a group, it contended, minorities were more likely to feel a need to consistently prove themselves, work harder and overcome hurdles.

Also, the City Comptroller of New York, decrying the lack of progress that the ad industry has shown with its workplace diversity initiatives. It is challenging Omnicom through a shareholder proposal to reveal confidential documents filed with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission that detail minority staffing levels throughout the holding company’s U.S. operations.

The Noel suit is just the latest ad industry litigation in the diversity sphere. 

A $100 million class action gender discrimination suit against Publicis Groupe and subsidiary MSL Group that was filed last year continues to wind its way through New York’s Southern District Court in Manhattan. Plaintiff Monique da Silva Moore claims she was the victim of pay and promotion discrimination based on her sex and says she was illegally terminated by MSL in 2010 after returning from pregnancy leave. She has accused Publicis Groupe and MSL of fostering a “systematic pattern and practice of gender discrimination.”

Publicis Groupe and MSL have denied the charges in court filings. Earlier this month, da Silva Moore and her co-plaintiffs filed a motion requesting that the judge in the case, Andrew J. Peck, recuse himself because he has shown impartiality in favor of the defendants. No decision has yet been reached on that motion.

Last month, in a separate case, a former media supervisor at Starcom MediaVest Group, Kristi Goldner, filed suit on racial discrimination grounds in U.S. District Court in Michigan. Goldner alleged she had been recruited to SMG’s Planworks unit in 2006 based, in part, on what she said was a promise to be promoted quickly, only to be passed over several times.

Goldner was laid off after the agency lost the General Motors media agency account earlier this year, although Goldner characterized the action as retaliatory, given that not all employees on the account were let go. She too is seeking unspecified punitive damages, along with back pay.

SMG’s response has not yet turned up in the court’s on-line case management system and a rep could not be immediately reached for comment.

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