KMPG Gender Discrimination Case

Case name: Kassman, et al. v. KMPG, LLP

Case type: Gender Discrimination

Filed in: [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York]

Docket: [Case No.: 11-CV-3743 (RJH)]

Case Summary

In June 2011, Sanford Heisler Sharp filed a class action lawsuit against the Big Four accounting firm KPMG, alleging systemic discrimination in pay and promotion based on gender, discrimination based on pregnancy, and chronic failure to properly investigate and resolve complaints of discrimination and harassment.

The Complaint was filed on behalf of Class Representative Donna Kassman. In late 2011 and again in 2016, the lawsuit was amended to add named plaintiffs from around the country who had experienced discrimination similar to what Ms. Kassman had suffered.

Ms. Kassman began working at KMPG in 1993 as an associate attorney. According to the company’s standard career track, she became a Senior Manager in 1999. There she remained for the next decade, a victim of KMPG’s endemic glass ceiling, which promoted fewer women to partner (18 percent) than the industry average (23 percent). In the hostile work environment at KMPG, female managers were viewed as interlopers by their male counterparts, the Complaint alleged. In their final years of employment with the firm, Ms. Kassman and fellow class representative Sparkle Patterson voiced numerous concerns and complaints through the appropriate channels at KMPG but were continually met with indifference, the Complaint alleged.

Despite stellar annual performance reviews, Ms. Kassman was paid less than similarly situated male employees, the Complaint alleged. When Ms. Kassman went on maternity leave in 2003, her base salary was cut by $20,000, the Complaint alleged, even though similar cuts were not made to her male counterparts’ salaries.

Throughout Ms. Kassman’s last decade at KMPG, she consistently expressed interest in promotions to Managing Director and Partner. Finally, in 2008, she was “put up” for promotion to Managing Director. The Complaint alleged that a “troika of men” in KMPG’s tax practice conspired to derail her advancement based on stereotypical criticisms of her “tone” and “direct” approach, a complaint not previously lodged against her during her 17 years with the company.

The Collective and Class Action alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as well as of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

In February 2013, the case was granted class certification. Plaintiffs subsequently asked the Court to send notice to thousands of women who, according to Plaintiffs’ evidence, had been systematically underpaid for years. In July 2014, the Court rejected KMPG’s opposition to the motion and ordered that approximately 9,000 women be given the opportunity to join the Equal Pay Act claims in the case.

The Court granted conditional certification of the Equal Pay Act collective and ordered that notice be mailed to the affected women, and around 1,100 women (current and former employees) joined to challenge KPMG’s unfair compensation.

Throughout the first half of 2018, Plaintiffs submitted legal arguments and evidence to the Court arguing that it should certify a class of approximately 10,000 women in the Tax and Advisory functions at KPMG alleging pay and promotion claims, and for final certification of the Equal Pay Act collective on behalf of the approximately 1,100 opt-in plaintiffs with claims of being paid less than comparable men.

On November 30, 2018, the Court held that the women challenging KPMG’s pay and promotion policies could not pursue their claims together.

In 2021, the parties agreed to a settlement.