Cushman & Wakefield Hit With $40M Age, Gender Bias Suit

Posted October 6th, 2015.

As It Appeared On
Law360

By Vin Gurrieri

Law360, New York (October 6, 2015, 4:33 PM ET) — A long-time Cushman & Wakefieldemployee slapped the commercial real estate giant with a $40 million gender and age discrimination suit in New York state court Tuesday, alleging she was passed up for a promotion and ultimately fired in favor of a younger, male colleague.

Plaintiff Maria Sicola, an approximately 35-year company veteran, claims that she was unceremoniously let go on Oct. 2, 2015, one day before her 60th birthday, and replaced with a younger, male executive from DTZ Holdings Inc., which just agreed to a $2 billion merger with Cushman & Wakefield Inc. earlier this year.

Sicola, the San Francisco-based former head of research for the Americas, claimed that the company fired her just days before she was scheduled to appear at a prominent industry women’s leadership event she had helped organize — a move she says “seemed almost calibrated to impose the maximum possible humiliation.”

In her place, the complaint alleges that the company sent 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.”

Sicola, who joined C&W in 1981, said in her complaint that she helped transform the company’s research division into an industry powerhouse during her tenure, earning both her and the company numerous industry awards.

As one of C&W’s most prominent women executives, she also played a central role in the company’s efforts to position itself as a supporter of the advancement of women in the commercial real estate sector, according to the complaint.

Following the recent DTZ merger, rumors had circulated within the industry that Sicola would be appointed global head of research for the new C&W, the complaint said, but she was ultimately passed over for the job.

“The discriminatory failure to promote Ms. Sicola to Global Head of Research – the position for which she had advocated for years and for which she was the obvious and most qualified choice – followed immediately by her abrupt termination, are only the most recent and egregious examples of the age and gender discrimination that permeate the new C&W as much, or more, than its predecessor,” the complaint said.

Besides just the events surrounding her final days at the company, Sicola also claims that “a discriminatory climate” existed at C&W which led her to be marginalized in recent years in favor of less qualified male and younger female employees.

Sicola cited numerous incidents in her complaint to back her allegations. She claims she was denied a transfer from C&W’s New York office to a location in San Francisco, with a male executive openly remarking about her sexuality in the process of denying her request. Sicola was eventually awarded the transfer months later only after she pointed to all the men in national leadership roles at C&W who were not based in New York.

Sicola also alleges she was forced to promote undeserving subordinates, was not given raises for years at a time, and was given underwhelming performance reviews that were unwarranted. Sicola also claims that she was sexually harassed last year by a drunk male colleague at a conference, but that her complaints about the incident fell on deaf ears, with no action being taken by the company, according to the complaint.

“As a direct and proximate result of defendant’s wrongful conduct, plaintiff has suffered emotional distress, mental pain, and anguish, and substantial loss in earnings and other employment and financial benefits,” the complaint said.

The suit, which brought claims under various California state statutes, noted that Sicola filed a charge of discrimination against C&W with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and received notice of a right to sue on Monday.

Sicola’s lead attorney Deborah Marcuse of Sanford Heisler Kimpel LLP said in a statement Tuesday that her client “was well-recognized in the industry for her long and distinguished career as a thought leader and innovator at C&W.”

“But, time and again, C&W made it clear that there was no room for a 60-year-old woman on the company’s all-male global leadership team,” Marcuse said.

A representative for Cushman & Wakefield could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

The plaintiff is represented by David Sanford, Deborah Marcuse, Jeremy Heisler and David Tracey of Sanford Heisler Kimpel LLP.

Counsel information for Cushman & Wakefield was not immediately available.

The case is Maria Sicola v. Cushman & Wakefield Inc. in the Supreme Court of the State of New York. The case number was not immediately available.

–Additional reporting by Tom Zanki. Editing by Emily Kokoll.

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