NEW YORK CITY—A $40 million gender and age discrimination suit has been filed in New York State Supreme Court against Cushman & Wakefield, GlobeSt.com has learned. The move comes just two years shy of a similar complaint—filed by then New York tri-state region COO and executive managing director Suzy Reingold.
The plantiff in the latest legal tussle is former head of research for the Americas Maria Sicola, who had been with the company for nearly 35 years until her alleged termination on October 2nd—one day shy of her 60th birthday.
Based in San Francisco, she has been replaced by DTZ chief economist Kevin Thorpe, 39, who, the complaint charges, has less management or global experience than Sicola. A Cushman spokesman tells GlobeSt.com that the firm doesn’t comment on legal matters.
Reingold filed suit for over $20 million in 2013 claiming she was passed over for a promotion to New York tri-state region president in favor of Ron LoRusso, also a less experienced, younger male. She remained at the firm for some time but ultimately left earlier this year to become a consultant at Colliers International. Both Reingold and Cushman in late 2014 filed for “voluntary dismissal, with prejudice,” of that case.
Sicola’s reported firing came only a few days before the Urban Land Institute‘s annual conference, for which she had organized a collaboration between ULI’s Women’s Leadership Initiative and Cushman & Wakefield to promote C&W’s recently launched Women’s Integrated Network (also called WIN, or WIN@Cushman&Wakefield).
Begun this year, WIN’s stated goals are “to spearhead the creation of leadership and business development programs and events, and share best practices for attracting and investing in the professional development and advancement of women within the company and ultimately, the industry at large.”
Sicola was scheduled to appear at the ULI/WIN event on October 5th and to represent C&W on a ULI real estate forecasting panel two days later but she allegedly was told that Thorpe would take her place in the discussion.
According to Sicola’s attorneys at the law firm of Sanford Heisler Kimpel, the plantiff was “considered by many in and outside the company to be the leading candidate for the global head of research position at the ‘new’ C&W, formed when DTZ completed a $2 billion acquisition of Cushman and took the C&W name.
Sanford Heisler Kimpel New York managing partner Deborah Marcuse, lead counsel for Sicola—who also represented Reingold—says the firing was made amid a climate of inferior treatment for women.
“Maria was promoted to head of research in 2008 but didn’t receive a salary increase,” Marcuse tells GlobeSt.com. She is disturbed further by the make up of Cushman’s global leadership team, which is comprised of 14 male executives and no women.
“This is not the optimal ‘new identity’ for the firm,” Marcuse declares. “It seems like they might be going backward.” Sanford chairman David Sanford adds, “Sicola’s unceremonious termination is textbook discrimination.”
She is suing for violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, including discrimination in pay, promotions and other terms and conditions of employment, for unlawful and unfair business practices under the California Unfair Competition Law, and for wrongful termination in violation of California public policy.
She seeks back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, restitution, and punitive damages of $40 million as well as attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses, prejudgment and post-judgment interest, and a jury trial.
GlobeSt.com will provide updates on this story as they become available.