Donna Kassman initiated the lawsuit against KPMG in 2011, but back when she joined KPMG in 1993 as a Tax Associate, suing KPMG was the furthest thing from her mind. “I always envisioned spending my entire career at KPMG; I bled KPMG blue for almost 18 years,” she explained.
Early in her time at KPMG, Donna moved quickly through the Firm’s ranks. By 1999, Donna became a Senior Manager and her skill and expertise made her a visible leader in the firm’s State and Local Tax (SALT) practice. In 1999, Donna was tapped by then Partner-in-Charge of SALT Robert Peters to become SALT’s Chief of Staff. In that role, she travelled around the country to KPMG’s various offices in order to develop, grow, and implement a national strategy for the practice.
The Chief of Staff position was not a permanent position and after three years, Donna rolled back into a client-facing role specializing in Employment Tax within the SALT practice. However, in this new role, she found herself interacting with different leadership. Unfortunately, these different leaders exposed and subjected Donna to gender discrimination that she had avoided up to that point.
For example, despite her consistently strong performance, KPMG, without explanation, slashed Donna’s salary by $20,000 while she was on maternity leave. When she asked one of KPMG’s Partners about the salary cut, he told her that she should consider the $20,000 she had previously earned “a loan.” When Donna attempted to address her concerns about her compensation again after some time had passed, the KPMG Partner shut down the conversation, commenting that Donna’s “nice engagement ring” showed she didn’t need to worry about money. Although KPMG recognized that Donna “in many ways…acted as more than a typical Senior Manager,” Donna was routinely paid less than her male colleagues. Despite her attempts to address pay inequities internally, KPMG did not take those concerns seriously and did nothing to look into the problem, let alone address it.
Throughout her time at KPMG, Donna was recognized as a “role model for other professional women.” In addition to managing her client duties, Donna also devoted time to implementing new mentorship initiatives and training programs, leading KPMG’s male leadership to consider making Donna a “Training Czar.” Like many working women and mothers at KPMG, although Donna worked on a flexible schedule, she nonetheless maintained the same responsibilities as her male colleagues. In December 2008, after serving as a Senior Manager for almost a decade, Donna was finally told that she would be put up for promotion to Tax Managing Director the next year, and in February 2009, Donna successfully completed the formal Leadership Evaluation & Assistance Program (“LEAP”). Despite multiple assurances from various male leaders at KPMG that Donna would be promoted, she never was.
Instead, Donna’s promotion, and career, was derailed after a male subordinate made gender-biased complaints about her “tone,” claiming Donna was “too direct” and “unapproachable.” When Donna sought help from KPMG’s Leadership, a Principal-in-Charge of the Ethics and Compliance Department told Donna “this is three men ganging up on a woman. We’ve had it before.” Another KPMG Partner admitted that the male subordinate had a “problem working with women.” Despite these acknowledgements, KPMG did nothing to help Donna, and she was ultimately driven from the Firm.
Like so many working women, Donna’s earnings were crucial to her family’s financial well-being. They were also vital to her identity.
“I was so proud of working at KPMG, and this career was something I had worked hard for, had sacrificed for. Having to confront KPMG’s repeated betrayals was devastating. Having that part of my identity stripped away was devastating. I don’t want anyone else to have to experience that, and I wanted to teach my children that you do the right thing, even when it’s tough. Bringing this lawsuit was the right thing to do.”
In fact, for Donna, she sees this as the logical extension of the work she did at KPMG:
“At KPMG, we helped companies work better and smarter, all while following the rules and regulations that governed their industry. KPMG isn’t following the rules and the way it is devaluing and mistreating its female employees isn’t smart. This lawsuit is about helping KPMG do better. It’s about helping KPMG become the Firm I always believed it was.”