A jury has ruled against a Trinidadian employee of U.S. ad holding company Interpublic Group of Cos. who sued the company alleging race discrimination in April 2012.
The suit, in which Joy C. Noel sought $50 million in damages in Manhattan federal court, alleged that Ms. Noel was treated "like a servant" for the many years that she worked under her manager, that she was consistently denied opportunities for career advancement and that she didn't get a job she wanted -- the position of executive assistant to the general counsel -- because of her race.
During the course of the proceedings that followed, Interpublic Chairman-CEO Michael Roth's name was removed from the suit and several claims were thrown out. One claim -- that Interpublic refused to promote Ms. Noel, who has worked at Interpublic since 1993, due to skin color -- proceeded to trial.
Interpublic argued in its defense that Ms. Noel has been treated in a professional and respectful manner during her eighteen years with the company. It said she never raised the issue of race discrimination to any of her managers prior to filing this claim, and that her manager offered to send Ms. Noel to paralegal school at company expense but she declined. Interpublic also argued that she didn't get the executive assistant job because she wasn't qualified in comparison to another candidate.
After more than a year of proceedings, it was an incredibly swift trial.
Opening arguments began Monday; closing arguments and a verdict came on Wednesday. A jury deliberated for just 11 minutes before deciding that Ms. Noel's claims were meritless and that the accusations didn't hold ground on a state or federal level.
"We're pleased that justice prevailed," Interpublic said in a statement. "We always believed in our position, and are glad the jury has agreed. As you can imagine, the accusations by Ms. Noel against our company and several long-serving employees have been incredibly hurtful on both professional and personal levels. Having the jury come back so quickly with a ruling in our favor on all counts provides complete vindication for our company and our people, especially [Global Director of Talent] Marge Hoey. In light of the hard work so many of us have done, including Marge, to advance diversity and inclusion at IPG and in our industry, we're very pleased to have this trial behind us."
Eric Sanders, an attorney for the Ms. Noel, said he and the plaintiff disagree with the jury's findings but respect the process. "Mrs. Noel is an honorable woman and is to be commended for asserting her employment rights where others have not," Mr. Sanders said. "Unfortunately, this verdict does nothing to tamper down the long-standing belief as expressed by Mrs. Noel and others long before her lawsuit was filed that meaningful occupations in the advertising industry are foreclosed to 'people of color.'"
Asked if Ms. Noel might appeal, Mr. Sanders said: "Maybe." In the meantime, she'll be reporting back to her job at Interpublic on Monday morning.