New York Times Seeks Dismissal of Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination in Ad Sales Department

Denies That Institutional Gender Inequality Exists at Company

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New York Times Co. President-CEO Mark Thompson.
New York Times Co. President-CEO Mark Thompson. Credit: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg
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In late April, two New York Times advertising department employees filed a lawsuit against The New York Times, CEO Mark Thompson, and chief revenue officer Meredith Levien, alleging that "the workplace at the Times has become an environment rife with discrimination based on age, race, and gender."

On Monday, the Times, Mr. Thompson, and Ms. Levien formally responded, asking in separate filings that the lawsuit be dismissed and pushing back on its claims. (At the time the lawsuit was filed, a Times spokeswoman had said it "completely distorts the realities of the work environment at the New York Times.")

"To the extent any wage disparities exist between plaintiffs and male employees in the advertising department (which defendants deny), such disparities are due to a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, which were implemented for legitimate business reasons, and/or a differential based on factors other than sex," the Times said in a filing.

Mr. Thompson and Ms. Levien, in their respective filings, denied the assertion that there is an "institutional gender equality" problem at the company.

The Times admitted that two meetings were held between certain employees of the advertising department and two executives, Vice Chairman Michael Golden and human resources executive Matthew Haradon. The company said that Ernestine Grant, one of the two employees named as plaintiffs, "and four other employees raised allegations regarding wage disparities, unfair account distribution and the category placement of older and minority employees."

It disputed several other points. For example, Ms. Grant, in her filing, said she was passed over for a promotion to advertising director "despite her excellent performance over many years." In response, the Times said, in part, that "Ms. Grant never applied for a promotion."

The Times also said Marjorie Walker, the other plaintiff, was not demoted, despite her assertion to the contrary.

The lawsuit filed in April made reference to former executive editor Jill Abramson's May 2014 firing, saying "Mr. Thompson's role in Ms. Abramsom's termination cannot be ignored." On that point, Ms. Levien's response said that the "defendant denies the facts concerning Ms. Abramson are relevant to any issue in this action."

Ms. Levien's filing confirmed that Brendan Monaghan, who was employed as senior VP-advertising and publisher of T: The New York Times Style Magazine," "hosted clients at his home and account managers who serviced the categories to which clients belonged."

The plaintiffs, who are in their early 60s, argued that they, along with "other older employees," were not invited to attend these gatherings, which the Times admitted, "despite the significant contributions they could have made as experienced employees with longstanding client relationships."

Mr. Monaghan, now publisher for Condé Nast Traveler, was also alleged to have exclusively hired "white men under the age of 30." The Times denied that allegation, and said he hired "three white males and one white female" during his tenure at the company.

Asked for comment, Douglas Wigdor, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told Ad Age that a response to Monday's filings will be filed Tuesday.

(UPDATE: Mr. Wigdor, on Tuesday, sent a letter to Judge P. Kevin Castel calling the effort to dismiss the case a waste of time and resources. "Indeed," he wrote, "it is ironic that Defendants seek leave to file a motion to dismiss on Plaintiffs' gender discrimination claims as after the filing of this Complaint, the News Guild of New York, of which many Times employees and putative class members are members, publicly published findings that, among other disparities, women at the Times have been paid up to 7% less than their male counterparts, and that white employees are paid 3% more across the board than people of color.")

In December 2015, a judge dismissed an employment discrimination complaint filed the previous June against Ms. Levien and the Times by Tracy Quitasol, a digital advertising executive now at OMD, at both sides' agreement, "without an award of attorney's fees, costs or disbursements to either party." Arielle Davies, who worked in advertising for the Times from 2013 through 2014, alleged gender discrimination in a February 2016 lawsuit. That case is ongoing.