By Frank Byrt
A class-action gender discrimination lawsuit filed by five former KPMG LLP female professional employees against the Big Four accounting firm may go forward, a US district court judge in New York ruled February 7.
The judge denied a motion by KPMG's lawyers to dismiss the claims, or in the alternative, force each of the five plaintiffs to pursue her claims individually, according to the plaintiffs' law firm, Sanford Heisler, LLP
The women allege that because they were women, they were denied pay raises and promotions, especially if they had children, and that KPMG had a hostile work environment. They're seeking damages, including $400 million in lost salary and benefits, according to a Sanford Heisler website posting
KPMG argued in a motion filed a year ago that the former employees couldn't assert class-wide status in light of a 2011 Supreme Court's ruling in a case involving former Walmart female employees, who had also sued the retailer for gender discrimination. The court ruled against giving the case class certification, saying the plaintiffs didn't have enough in common to constitute a class.
Sanford Heisler said its clients "allege that KPMG engages in systemic discrimination against its female professionals, including but not limited to female associates, senior associates, managers, senior managers, and managing directors."
The law firm also said that at KPMG, "women comprise about half of all employees but only 18 percent of partners."
KPMG spokesman Manuel Goncalves said in a statement e-mailed to AccountingWEB, that "KPMG is recognized as a leader for its strong commitment to supporting women in the workplace. Diversity and inclusion have long been priorities for the firm, and they are woven into our culture and everything we do. We continue to believe this lawsuit is entirely without merit, and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves."
Katherine Kimpel, Sanford Heisler's lead attorney in the case, said in her firm's website posting, that "KPMG pays nothing more than lip service to its commitment to female employees and working mothers. In reality, KPMG discriminates as if we were permanently stuck in the 1950s, where heavy drinking and sexual innuendo is just a part of the game. In addition, the male leadership at KPMG expects women to perform, but they aren't willing to pay or promote. The complaint also chronicles KPMG's failure to adequately investigate and resolve complaints of discrimination when they are brought to the attention of human resources and other reporting channels."
A women's accounting organization says women face gender discrimination challenges in the workplace regularly. "The Accounting & Financial Women's Alliance
is troubled by the lack of diversity at the top levels of the accounting and finance profession," said Lee Lowery, executive director
of the Alliance in a statement e-mailed to AccountingWEB. "It is important for any employee to feel valued at their place of work. As we have discussed in our recent special reports on diversity in the accounting and finance fields, we see minorities and women leave when the organization's policies and culture conflict with minority and women's needs and expectations."