Discrimination Claim Against Interpublic Heads to Trial

Most of Plaintiff's Claims Tossed, but Jury Will Decide if She Wasn't Promoted Because of Skin Color

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Various claims filed in April 2012 as part of a race discrimination lawsuit against Interpublic Group of Cos. have been tossed out by a New York district judge. However, one claim made by Trinidadian employee Joy C. Noel -- that Interpublic failed to promote due to her skin color -- has been permitted to proceed to trial.

The trial begins on June 3, according to court documents.

When Ms. Noel filed suit in Manhattan federal court last spring, she sought a whopping $50 million in damages. She claimed that in her many years working for the company, Interpublic fostered an environment where discrimination based on race and color is condoned. She alleged that she was passed over for promotions because Caucasian and light-skinned Hispanics are treated more favorably than African-Americans or other dark-skinned employees. Ms. Noel has been at Interpublic since 1993 and is still an employee there.

Also named in the original suit were several high-ranking executives, including Interpublic Chairman-CEO Michael Roth. His name was later removed from the suit.

Interpublic in a statement told Ad Age it is pleased that most of the claims have been thrown out and it expects her remaining claim will be too. "Diversity and inclusion have been long-term priorities for IPG and we've made significant strides in this area in recent years," the company said. "This is especially true at our corporate office. That's why we are very gratified that the judge has agreed to dismiss the majority of Ms. Noel's claims. We continue to believe her one remaining claim is equally 'devoid of facts,' as the court itself stated in its initial finding, and look forward to demonstrating this at trial."

But unless something changes in the proceedings in the next couple of weeks, District Judge Harold Baer Jr. has ruled that it's up to a jury whether Ms. Noel was really passed over for a job unfairly.

Said Mr. Baer in an opinion issued on the matter: "Prior experience interacting with Board members is hardly a 'basic skill' necessary to perform these administrative tasks. By contrast, Plaintiff has worked at IPG in an administrative capacity for over 20 years and holds a bachelor's degree in accounting. This experience demonstrates that Plaintiff was at least minimally qualified for the promotion to Executive Assistant." He added: "The true significance of this 'Board experience' is thus a credibility issue that only a jury may decide."

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