Class Action Gender Discrimination Suit Against KPMG

June 2, 2011, by Kristan Peters-Hamlin

Donna Kassman, 54, who worked in KPMG's New York offices for 17 years and was a former senior manager at KPMG, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York a $350 million class-action lawsuit. The suit alleges a pattern of gender discrimination at KPMG that has prevented women from being promoted to leadership positions. Kassman resigned after being denied a promotion and had her salary inexplicably docked $20,000 when she went on maternity leave. Her male supervisor allegedly told her she did not need the money because she "had a nice engagement ring."

When she complained about her treatment at the firm and about the promotion she was denied, her supervisors suggested that she attend more "happy hours" with her colleagues. She was also advised that her male colleagues opined that her tone was "too direct" and she was "unapproachable.". KPMG spokesman George Ledwith defended KPMG's record by claiming that "among the Big Four accounting firms, KPMG is tied with the highest percentage of women partners." While KPMG's workforce is approximately 50 percent female, less than one in five partners are female, according to the lawsuit.

Even if the number of women KPMG has in leadership positions is better than at the other big Four Accounting firms, the lawsuit alleges that "Among the 20 members of KPMG's global executive team, only one, or 5 percent, is female. Similarly, of the 24 members of the global board, only one, or 4 percent, is female." Despite the fact that, for decades, women constitute half the workforce at accounting firms, women are only 23 percent of all partners industry-wide and only 18 percent at KPMG, according to a Catalyst study. The suit also noted that KPMG promotes fewer women to senior manager (35 percent) than the industry average of 44 percent.

Kassman further alleges that, around the time she was to be promoted, two male employees complained that she was "unapproachable" and "too direct," according to the lawsuit. Based on these comments, KPMG removed Kassman from the promotion track. Kassman's attorney stated that "Ms. Kassman repeatedly complained up the chain of command about the gender discrimination and harassment she was experiencing, and the company reacted with neither surprise nor concern. Her supervising partner told her matter-of-factly that her male colleague might have a problem working with women, and the Office of Ethics and Compliance told Ms. Kassman that men had ganged up on women at KPMG before."

The suit was filed on behalf of a class of thousands of current and former female employees who have worked as managers at KPMG from 2008 through the date of judgment.