Class Action Charges “Viva La Discrimination” at Publicis

Posted February 24th, 2011.

$100 Million in Damages Demanded

Glass Ceiling Keeps Women in Their Place, Out of Key Management Roles

For more information, contact Jamie Moss, newsPRos, 201-493-1027, 201-788-0142 (cell); or Jaime Baum, newsPRos, 847-502-3825.

(February 24, 2011 New York, NY) –“Viva La Difference!” celebrates the slogan for diversity at Publicis Groupe, one of the world’s “big four” advertising conglomerates. But for women employed at Publicis, there may be a “La Difference” but it gives them nothing to celebrate. A gender hierarchy haunts Publicis. The company’s diversity program announces explicitly: “…every employee – both male and female – has his or her place…” And at Publicis, a woman’s place is second place – far removed from senior management positions, almost all of which the company reserves for the men.

Of the 45,000 PR professionals employed by Publicis, women account for approximately 70 percent of the staff and men for only 30 percent. Yet, men dominate the senior management ranks throughout Publicis worldwide; women hold only approximately 15 percent of leadership positions.

Seeking to shatter the glass ceiling at Publicis Groupe, Monique da Silva filed a class action gender discrimination lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York on behalf of herself and other female public relations employees in the U.S. who were denied equal pay, promotion and other employment opportunities by Publicis and its member, MSLGroup. Ms. da Silva, a former Global Healthcare Director for MSLGroup, worked for Publicis’ leading public relations network for thirteen years.

Today’s filing seeks certification of a class of female employees who worked in MSLGroup in the United States from 2008 until the date of judgment. Ms. da Silva and the class seek declaratory and injunctive relief, back pay, front pay, compensatory, nominal and punitive damages and legal expenses in an amount of at least $100 million.

The Plaintiff and the class are represented in this matter by David Sanford, Janette Wipper and Deepika Bains of Sanford Wittels & Heisler, LLP. The firm recently secured the largest jury award in the U.S. in an employment discrimination case in May 2010 when a jury returned a verdict of $253 million in compensatory and punitive damage against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation.

“Women began dominating the public relations industry in the 1980’s; but, even three decades later, they have had little success in advancing to the highest levels of management at Publicis Groupe,” said Janette Wipper, Class Counsel in the case. “While a woman might be able to reach the Director level at Publicis, it is nearly impossible for her to advance beyond that level no matter how well she performs.”

After the reorganization of the MSLGroup beginning in 2008, the company promoted and hired more men at a disproportionately higher rate, and the few women hired through the reorganization had no children. And the company is fully aware of this issue – in their 2009 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, when identifying the “number of women in senior management positions,” Publicis actually refers to its “Management Board” which is “composed of 5 men.” Without acknowledging a problem with its underrepresentation of women in management, Publicis admits that its “agencies have already had discrimination claims brought against them (especially in the USA).”

Publicis also wrongly terminated Ms. da Silva and other female employees immediately after their return from maternity leave, which the Complaint characterizes as typical of the corporation’s discrimination against working mothers. At the same time Publicis terminated Ms. da Silva, Publicis also forced other women out of the Company under similar circumstances.

“Being the fourth largest communications group in the world, Publicis sets the industry standard,” said David Sanford, Counsel for Plaintiff and the class. “As long as Publicis and its members continue to allow such blatant gender discrimination, particularly in terms of its glass ceiling, other PR agencies will follow suit. Publicis needs to improve in order for the industry as a whole to do so.”

“The obstacles that come with being a female employee at Publicis are exacerbated when a female employee becomes a mother. At that point, females face more than a glass ceiling – which often causes them to leave the company voluntarily, or they face termination,” Deepika Bains said, Counsel for Plaintiff and the class.

Defendant Publicis Groupe, based in Paris, France, employs approximately 45,000 professionals. In 2009, its revenues were more than 4.5 billion Euros ($6.2 billion).

About SWH

Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP (SWH) is a law firm with offices in Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco that specializes in employment discrimination, wage and hour, consumer and complex corporate class action litigation and has represented thousands of individuals in some of the major class action cases in the United States. The firm also represents individual clients in employment, employment discrimination, sexual harassment, whistleblower, public accommodations, commercial, medical malpractice, and personal injury matters.

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