Posted April 29th, 2019.
By Vin Gurrieri
Law360 (April 29, 2019, 2:54 PM EDT) — A veteran attorney who recently served as Exl Service Holdings Inc.’s general counsel was asked to serve male subordinates cake and ultimately ousted for complaining about gender bias, she alleged in a $20 million lawsuit filed Monday.
Plaintiff Nancy Saltzman, who worked for the data analytics and outsourcing provider as general counsel and chief compliance officer for about four years until she was fired in mid-2018, accused ExlService Holdings and several top executives of violating the New York City Human Rights Law.
Saltzman alleged that throughout her tenure Exl CEO Rohit Kapoor, along with other men on the company’s executive committee, “treated [her] as inferior,” blocked her and other women from career advancement, and subjected her to a level of scrutiny and micromanagement that men in didn’t receive.
The situation reached a boiling point in May 2018, when Kapoor allegedly asked her to serve junior male employees cake at a heavily male company party “because she was one of four ‘ladies’ in attendance.” That request left her “humiliated and upset,” and prompted her to complain to Kapoor and another top male executive, according to the complaint.
However, Exl’s board interpreted Saltzman’s complaint as a resignation and gave Kapoor the green light to fire her, which he did shortly thereafter, the complaint alleged.
“Defendants’ actions send a clear message to other women at Exl that opposition to the company’s discriminatory practices will result in dismissal,” Saltzman’s complaint said.
Saltzman’s counsel, David Sanford of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP, said his client “worked hard for 20 years to earn a seat at the table on Exl’s executive committee,” but that she “apparently found herself relegated to serving cake” once she got there.
Exl did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After graduating from law school in 1992, Saltzman spent three years practicing at Dewey Ballantine, the firm that morphed into Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP about a decade later before eventually collapsing into bankruptcy.
Starting in 1995, Saltzman spent the next two decades in-house — first for Chartwell Re Corp. and then for Westcon Group Inc., before landing at Exl in 2014 as executive vice president and general counsel, according to her court filing Monday.
Saltzman alleged that the company’s top executive tier was predominantly male and that she, as the first and only female member of its executive committee, was never treated as an equal by the committee’s other members.
She also claimed that the company’s micromanaging of her hurt her ability to do her work. That included male executives keeping her from obtaining key legal documents, and Kapoor rejecting her international travel requests to meet with other employees at overseas offices. She also claims she was subsequently criticized her in performance reviews for not adequately building those overseas relationships, according to her complaint.
Saltzman also offered several examples of the gender bias she claims to have endured, starting at her interview for the job when the company’s COO Pavan Bagai, who isn’t named as a defendant, asked colleagues if she was “attractive” and remarked approvingly during the interview about her wearing a skirt.
But besides her own alleged mistreatment, Saltzman alleged more broadly that the company “had little interest” in having diverse or female candidates advance into Exl’s leadership ranks.
“The company’s routine marginalization of female employees has caused a mass exodus of women in senior leadership positions — all of whom have been swiftly replaced by men, including Ms. Saltzman,” Saltzman’s complaint said.
Saltzman claimed she first sought to turn Kapoor’s attention to the unfair treatment she was receiving during a meeting that came soon after the cake-cutting incident.
The testy exchange between the two that was recounted in Saltzman’s complaint included her allegedly receiving unwarranted criticism for the way she settled a legal matter. Kapoor subsequently chided her for being “‘very emotional’ and unable to separate her emotions from her work,” critiques that Saltzman claimed in her complaint were “grounded in sexist stereotypes,” Monday’s complaint said.
Although Saltzman raised internal complaints about Kapoor’s behavior to other executives in the belief that it would remain confidential, he found out about it. Despite her protests that she never resigned, Kapoor and other top executives took her complaints as a resignation, which they accepted — a move she alleges was designed to push her out of the picture as quickly as possible, according to her suit.
“Defendants intentionally and maliciously manipulated the circumstances of plaintiff’s dismissal from the company in a manner designed to harm her future career prospects and reputation,” Saltzman’s complaint said. “Defendants seized the opportunity to force plaintiff out of the company by choosing to misconstrue her discrimination complaint as a ‘resignation,’ despite her many statements to the contrary.”
In addition to Exl itself, the suit names Kapoor, chairman of Exl’s board of directors Garen Staglin, and two other top executives as individual defendants.
Saltzman is represented by David Sanford, Russell Kornblith and Nicole Wiitala of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP.
Counsel information for the defendants was not immediately available.
The case is Nancy Saltzman v. ExlService Holdings Inc. et al., in the Supreme Court of the State of New York. The case number was not immediately available.
–Editing by Daniel King.