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Law360 (September 19, 2018, 8:30 PM EDT) — A Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. unit illegally refused to promote one of its top attorneys to general counsel because of her gender and fired her under false pretenses after she complained about the conglomerate’s discriminatory treatment of women, according to a suit in New York federal court.
Plaintiff Jennifer S. Fischman, who worked as an in-house lawyer at Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings America Inc. for about a decade, alleged that the company violated Title VII by not promoting her to the job of general counsel and chief compliance officer on a permanent basis because of her gender and later concocted a reason to fire her after she had been demoted, according to the suit filed Sept. 7
Fischman also claimed that the company selected a male attorney, Nicolas Oliva, to fill the role she didn’t get despite him being both less qualified and less experienced than her, and that a top company executive had it out for her because she oversaw an investigation into certain of his alleged misdeeds.
“While the glass ceiling may have some cracks in it, we as a society need to break through completely,” Sara Wyn Kane of Valli Kane & Vagnini LLP, counsel for Fischman, said in a statement Wednesday. “After passing over Ms. Fischman for the top spot, the company unjustifiably retaliated and terminated this longtime senior employee, who earned high marks year after year for her stellar performance, after she spoke out against the wrongful discrimination against herself and other female employees.”
A representative for Mitsubishi was not available for comment.
Fischman, who joined Mitsubishi in March 2008, said in her suit that the position she sought functions as a “secretary” at dozens of affiliated Mitsubishi companies in the United States and a few in Japan that use MCHA’s legal department under a contractual agreement.
The person who gets the job must have approval from the board of each individual company at which they are a secretary, as well as approval from top officials in Japan who oversee each of those companies, according to the complaint.
Almost throughout her tenure, Fischman said, she received sparkling performance reviews, but was told in 2015 that it wasn’t likely she would ever get the general counsel and chief compliance officer job on a full-time basis, according to the complaint.
Donna Costa, who held the job and was herself being promoted within the company and for whom Fischman had filled in, purportedly told her the decision had been made by company brass in Japan.
Top executives at a Mitsubishi affiliate in South Carolina subsequently told Fischman that the decision not to promote her was made because she is female and that Costa “had expended all her ‘political capital’” on getting herself promoted, according to the complaint.
Once Oliva got the job, Fischman alleged that the company treated him better than she was treated when she held the role on an acting basis, including giving him higher pay and more access to company brass.
“Despite her excellent qualifications … Ms. Fischman was passed over for promotion to the full (i.e. non-temporary) position of general counsel and chief compliance officer until the company could hire a suitable male replacement, because the company values male leadership and could not tolerate the notion of having more than one woman (Ms. Costa and Ms. Fischman) in executive positions,” the complaint said. “Indeed, other than one other woman who is an outside member of the board of directors in Japan, Ms. Costa remains the only woman in executive leadership worldwide — in a company with tens of thousands of employees and hundreds of affiliated companies.”
Besides being passed over for promotion, Fischman also claimed that one top company executive, Shoji Yoshisato, who wasn’t named as a defendant, particularly resented her because she had to conduct an interview with him in 2013 that included numerous invasive questions in connection with an investigation that involved potential sexual harassment, as well as his purported blackmailing of a whistleblower who allegedly knew about financial improprieties.
Yoshisato allegedly retaliated against Fischman weeks after the company settled the whistleblower’s claims by not promoting her and starting a search for her replacement, she alleged.
Fischman was ultimately fired in 2017 and escorted from the building purportedly for a negative mid-year review she received, which she claims the company didn’t typically issue, and a purported ethical violation in a case she had been working on — reasons she now claims were pretextual.
“The cruelty with which Ms. Fischman was treated was an attempt by the company to humiliate her, damage her personal and professional reputation, and silence her from making a claim of discrimination and retaliation,” the complaint said.
Besides Title VII, Fischman’s suit also includes claims under the Sarbones-Oxley Act and the Equal Pay Act, as well as various New York City and state statutes. Along with several Mitsubishi corporate entities, Costa and Oliva are named as defendants, with Fischman accusing them of aiding and abetting the companies’ alleged violations of New York laws.
Fischman is represented by Sara Wyn Kane, Robert Valli and Matthew Berman of Valli Kane & Vagnini LLP.
Counsel information for Mitsubishi wasn’t immediately available.
The case is Jennifer Fischman v. Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings America Inc., case number 1:18-cv-08188, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
— By Vin Gurrieri
–Editing by Dipti Coorg.