Interpublic Group Files Motion to Dismiss $50 Million Discrimination Suit

Filing Claims Noel Complaint Is 'Littered With References to Untimely and Irrelevant Alleged Events'

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Interpublic Group of Cos. responded late Tuesday to the race-discrimination suit filed in April by a Trinidadian employee who is seeking $50 million in damages.

The employee, Joy C. Noel, filed suit in Manhattan federal court against the world's fourth-largest agency holding company, claiming that in her many years working for it, Interpublic has fostered an environment where discrimination based on race and color is condoned. She alleged in the complaint 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 suit were several high-ranking executives, including Interpublic Chairman-CEO Michael Roth; former Senior VP-General Counsel Nicholas Joseph Camera; former VP-Associate General Counsel and Assistant Secretary Marjorie Mary Hoey; and Carolyn Harding, Interpublic's director of human resources in the U.S. and Latin America.

In response to the suit, Interpublic filed a 20-page document that supported its motion to dismiss, citing various Supreme Court cases and other precedents to underscore that Ms. Noel's claims shouldn't be upheld.

"Noel's complaint completely ignores such basic concepts as statutes of limitation, exhaustion of administrative remedies, federal pleading requirements, and well-established rules regarding individual liability," the response says. "Indeed, the complaint is littered with references to untimely and irrelevant alleged events, conclusory accusations that have absolutely no factual basis and claims against individuals that even the most minimum amount of legal research reveals have no legal basis."

The response notes that Ms. Noel reports a pattern of discrimination, but only one of her claims even falls within the statute of limitations; the 2011 job she wanted as an assistant to Mr. Camera, Interpublic's former general counsel.

Interpublic also asks that all claims against Mr. Roth be dismissed. The company says Ms. Noel's naming of Mr. Roth in the suit is inappropriate and not actionable because he isn't alleged to have participated in any discriminatory conduct.

In other words, Interpublic is arguing that she is claiming discrimination based on an alleged refusal to give her promotions because of her race, but Mr. Roth doesn't get involved in such lower-level hiring decisions. The response states: "Plaintiff does not assert a single fact upon which she could base a claim that defendant Roth had any personal involvement in any alleged race or color based discriminatory conduct against her."

Interpublic representatives declined to comment beyond the court documents.

The next move is Ms. Noel's. Her attorney can file opposition papers in the next few weeks, to which Interpublic will have a chance to reply. At that point, the judge will take anywhere from two to six months to decide if he or she will grant the holding company's motion to dismiss. If that motion is granted, the majority of claims will be dismissed but there also will be a move to the discovery phase based on any remaining claims. That means the suit won't be resolved for some time.

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