NY judge: Discrimination claim at Bloomberg failed

NEW YORK (AP) — A claim that the financial services news company founded by Mayor Michael Bloomberg discriminated against pregnant women and mothers fell far short of what was needed to prove a companywide pattern or practice of discrimination, a federal judge concluded Wednesday.

Judge Loretta Preska in Manhattan rejected the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s claim that Bloomberg L.P. made discrimination its regular practice but said some individual claims can proceed in the case, filed in 2007.

The judge said the EEOC supported its claim of a pervasive bias with no statistical evidence of discrimination and about 10 statements from four or five managers or executives in a company of 10,000 employees, 603 of whom took maternity leave during a six-year span covered by the lawsuit.

“Isolated remarks by a handful of executives ... do not show that Bloomberg’s standard operating procedure was to discriminate against pregnant women and mothers,” the judge said.

She noted that facts showed Bloomberg L.P. increased compensation for women returning from maternity leave more than for those who took similarly lengthy leaves.

“Here, much of the evidence appears to be the EEOC’s claims that individuals were unhappy with the amount of a raise or unhappy with a denial of a transfer or unhappy about not receiving a promotion,” she said.

EEOC Attorney Raechel Adams said: “We look forward to proceeding with the individual claims and will assess our options.”

Bloomberg L.P. said in a statement that the judge’s ruling “confirms what we have known all along: that the evidence is squarely on our side and that this case is without merit.”

The judge, in her ruling, considered the experiences of 78 women and six identified plaintiffs represented by the EEOC who became pregnant or took maternity leave between February 2002 and March 2009. She said the fact that nearly 90 percent of Bloomberg L.P.’s “pregnant or mother employees had no claims is significant.”

“The singular fact that the EEOC has no statistical evidence in support of its case, while maybe not fatal in itself, is severely damaging in this case,” she wrote. “In addition to that fact, the EEOC has presented nothing other than anecdotal evidence. The result is fatal.”

As lawyers in the case pursued evidence to support their claims, Bloomberg was not a defendant, though he testified at depositions about the company, from which he resigned as chief executive officer to run for mayor in 2001. He retained a 68 percent stake in the company.

As the EEOC built its case, it interviewed some of the hundreds of women at Bloomberg L.P. who had gone on maternity leave since 2002.

The EEOC said the New York-based company engaged in a pattern of demoting women, diminishing their duties and excluding them from other job opportunities after they disclosed they were pregnant.

The judge wrote about several class members, noting that the salary of one grew from $219,000 in 2001 when she announced her pregnancy to $304,000 in 2008 while another employee’s salary rose from $110,000 in 2004 before her first pregnancy leave to $127,000 in 2008. Still another class member saw her compensation rise from $173,000 to $463,000 between 2003 and 2008, the judge noted.

“No jury could view this evidence as supporting the allegation that Bloomberg engaged in a regular practice of discrimination,” the judge wrote.

Before Bloomberg became mayor, he was the target of a lawsuit by a female sales executive who accused him of sexual harassment while he was chief executive of Bloomberg L.P. The lawsuit claimed Bloomberg and other male managers at the company made “repeated and unwelcome” sexual comments, overtures and gestures, contributing to an offensive, locker room culture.

The lawsuit also alleged that Bloomberg displayed a discriminatory attitude toward pregnant women and new mothers and that this culture was fostered at the company.

Bloomberg adamantly denied the accusations, and the lawsuit was settled in 2000 for undisclosed terms.

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