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Maria Sicola v. Cushman & Wakefield, Inc.

Case Description

Case Type: Employment Discrimination
Company: Cushman & Wakefield, Inc.

October 6, 2015, New York, NY – Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP, a leading national public interest law firm, today filed a $40 million gender and age discrimination lawsuit in Supreme Court, New York County, against Cushman & Wakefield, Inc. (C&W), one of the largest commercial real estate companies in the world.

The complaint was filed on behalf of San Francisco-based former Head of Research for the Americas, Maria Sicola, who until October 2, 2015 – the day before her sixtieth birthday – was considered by many in and outside the Company to be the leading candidate for the Global Head of Research position at the “new” C&W, formed when DTZ completed a $2 billion acquisition of Cushman and took the Cushman & Wakefield name. Taking a page from the old C&W’s playbook, however, instead of promoting Ms. Sicola, the Company chose instead, the complaint alleges, to promote a less qualified 39-year-old male, Kevin Thorpe, who had no management or global experience in his prior role as Chief Economist for DTZ. At the same time, C&W terminated Ms. Sicola, an employee of almost 35 years, with four days’ notice, effective one business day before she was to attend a prominent industry women’s event she had played a primary role in organizing.

The complaint alleges that the shocking decision to terminate Ms. Sicola and promote Mr. Thorpe in her place was the culmination of years of unlawful discrimination based on gender and age to which C&W’s all male global leadership team subjects women over 40. “Ms. Sicola was well-recognized in the industry for her long and distinguished career as a thought leader and innovator at C&W,” noted Sanford Heisler Sharp’s New York Managing Partner Deborah Marcuse, lead counsel for Ms. Sicola. “But, time and again, C&W made it clear that there was no room for a sixty-year-old woman on the company’s all-male global leadership team.”

For almost thirty-five years, Ms. Sicola was a loyal employee of Cushman & Wakefield, where she began in 1981 as a Research Manager in the Industrial Brokerage Division. Even before she took the position of Head of Americas Research in 2008, Ms. Sicola pushed the C&W research organization forward through relentless innovation, transforming C&W into a research powerhouse, a leader in global forecasting, and a collaborator with multiple prominent academic institutions. In light of Ms. Sicola’s stellar performance and extensive experience at C&W, colleagues and industry insiders alike eagerly anticipated an announcement of Ms. Sicola’s appointment as Global Head of Research for the new C&W.

As the 2015 annual conference of the Urban Land Institute (“ULI”) approached, featuring thousands of real estate industry leaders from around the world, Ms. Sicola organized a collaboration between ULI’s Women’s Leadership Initiative and Cushman & Wakefield to promote C&W’s recently launched Women’s Integrated Network (also called WIN, or WIN@Cushman&Wakefield). Begun in 2015, WIN’s stated goals are “to spearhead the creation of leadership and business development programs and events, and share best practices for attracting and investing in the professional development and advancement of women within the company and ultimately, the industry at large.” Ms. Sicola was scheduled to appear at the ULI/WIN event on October 5 and to represent C&W on a ULI real estate forecasting panel two days later.

Instead, in a move that seemed calibrated to impose the maximum possible humiliation, C&W abruptly terminated Ms. Sicola just days before the conference, informing her that she would not participate in the ULI panel. In her place, C&W would send its new Head of Research, 39 year-old Kevin Thorpe, whose eight years as Chief Economist at DTZ gave him neither Ms. Sicola’s staff management background nor her experience as leader of a much larger research organization with a global reach. “Ms. Sicola’s unceremonious termination is textbook discrimination,” remarked David Sanford, Chairman of Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP. “C&W passed her up for promotion and terminated her in favor of a younger and less qualified male employee.”

With an MBA, a Masters’ Degree in Information Science, graduate level training in statistics and a nearly 35-year track record of success as the homegrown manager of C&W’s research division, Ms. Sicola was more than qualified and the obvious choice for the position. In fact, the research organization proposed for the new C&W, the complaint alleges, resembles in many respects the global model Ms. Sicola had for years pushed Cushman & Wakefield to adopt.

Ms. Sicola sues for violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, including discrimination in pay, promotions and other terms and conditions of employment, for unlawful and unfair business practices under the California Unfair Competition Law, and for wrongful termination in violation of California public policy.

Ms. Sicola seeks back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, restitution, and punitive damages of $40,000,000, as well as attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses, prejudgment and post-judgment interest, and a jury trial.

The “new” Cushman & Wakefield, which operates in more than 60 countries around the world, boasts “a combined total of $5 billion in revenue, 43,000 employees, more than 4.3 billion square feet under management, and $191 billion in transaction value.”

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