New allegations of gender-based discrimination against Mayor Bloomberg's financial news company, Bloomberg L.P., could be a political liability for the mayor if he opts to run for president.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the company yesterday on behalf of three women who say they were discriminated against either during pregnancy or upon their return from maternity leave.
The EEOC, which acts on only a fraction of the discrimination complaints it receives, claims that the company engaged in "unlawful employment practices" between February 2002 and the present. That is after Mr. Bloomberg stepped down and removed himself from the company's daily operations. The mayor has been at the center of a gender discrimination lawsuit in the past, but he adamantly denied the charges.
A professor of public affairs at Baruch College, Douglas Muzzio, said that though yesterday's suit covers a period after Mr. Bloomberg exited, it could hurt politically if he decides to run for president as a third party candidate.
"It could be argued that he did it before, there was a culture, he was a man at the top," Mr. Muzzio said. "If he decides to run it could be very bad because then it dredges up all the old stuff."
When asked yesterday what he knew about the lawsuit Mr. Bloomberg, who insists he will not be a presidential candidate, said nothing. "Nothing whatsoever," he told reporters during an announcement in Long Island City. "You'll have to talk to Bloomberg L.P. I haven't worked there, as you know, in an awful long time."
A spokeswoman for Bloomberg L.P., Judith Czelusniak, said via email that the company "believes strongly that the allegation are without merit"
"We intend to defend the case vigorously," she said.
Yesterday, two of the three woman involved in the suit held a late news conference at their attorney's office in Lower Manhattan and vowed to file their own suit. They said the accompanying private suit, which they plan to file in the next few days, would contain more detailed allegations. When Mr. Bloomberg was running for office in 2001, his opponent, Mark Green, seized upon a past allegation against the mayor. That case involved a 1997 lawsuit filed by a former company saleswoman who accused Mr. Bloomberg of responding to her telling him she was pregnant in 1995 by saying: "Kill it." Mr. Bloomberg denied those claims and settled the lawsuit without admitting to any wrongdoing in 2000.
At the time, Mr. Bloomberg publicly said that he passed a lie-detector test. He was quoted as saying he settled the suit with the former employee because "the lawyers believe the suit could drag on for years and disrupt the company's focus." Two other sexual harassment suits were filed against the company in the 1990s, but one was dismissed and the other was withdrawn.
A political science professor at the University of Virginia, Larry Sabato, said given that Mr. Bloomberg wasn't in charge at the time of the allegations, it would be difficult to pin the responsibly on him. "He wasn't even there," Mr. Sabato said. "To me that dramatically lessens the power of it. Most people are going to say that the limited partnership may have his name on it but he was already mayor. He clearly wasn't running the partnership, so how could he be responsible for the discrimination?"
The suit filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan names three women — Jill Patricot, Tanys Lancaster, and Janet Loures — and alleges that the company demonstrated a pattern of discrimination against employees based on their sex and their pregnancies. Ms. Patricot and Ms. Loures still work at the company, while Ms. Lancaster has since left. A privately retained attorney for the women, Milo Silberman, declined to say exactly what positions the women held at the company, although a press release states that Ms. Lancaster's salary of about $300,000 was reduced after she became pregnant.
The complaint accuses Bloomberg L.P. of decreasing the women's pay, scaling back their responsibilities, and excluding them from other job opportunities when they became pregnant or returned from maternity leave. It also says they were replaced by junior male employees after they announced they were pregnant and when they returned to the office after giving birth. It seeks an unspecified amount of compensation, including back pay for the women.
When they returned from maternity leave, the suit says the women were also allegedly told: "You are not committed" and "You do not want to be here."
"Employers need to be aware that it is unlawful to discriminate against women based on their pregnancy or act on stereotypes concerning their roles as caregivers," the commission's New York District director, Spencer Lewis Jr., said in a statement. "No working woman should be forced to choose between motherhood and her livelihood."
The company, which Mr. Bloomberg founded in 1981, has more than 9,000 employees and 125 offices all over the world. It has a reputation for its innovativeness and for staying ahead of the curve. As of November 2006, it had almost 300,000 of its signature Bloomberg terminals worldwide. The terminals, which sit atop the desks of finance executives worldwide, have become indispensable to businesses from New York to New Delhi.
Mr. Bloomberg stepped down as chairman of the company's board after he became a candidate for mayor, and when he was elected he relinquished his position as chief executive. He still owns 68% share of the company, which is where most of his vast personal fortune lies.
The regional attorney for the EEOC, Elizabeth Grossman, said the commission tries to settle cases privately and only proceeds to court if that is unsuccessful.
Correction from October 8, 2007:
Milo Silberstein is the spelling of the name of the attorney retained by the three women suing Bloomberg LP. His name was misspelled in an article on page 4 of the September 28 New York Sun.