Lawsuits against the Big 4 firms are a dime a dozen, but discrimination lawsuits make the most headlines. Like the two older CPAs who sued PwC for age discrimination (and WON!) and gender discrimination lawsuits against KPMG and EY, which either didn’t go or hasn’t gone according to plan for the plaintiffs. Now it’s Deloitte’s turn to jump on the discrimination lawsuit merry-go-round.
Saxon Knight, a former solutions manager at Deloitte, filed a proposed class-action lawsuit in Manhattan federal court on Sept. 1., alleging that Deloitte pushed her out of her job once she returned from six months of maternity leave—even though Knight claims she was told she would be reinstated to her role once she came back to work—and then firing her after she complained.
Deloitte’s website says its paid family leave program “gives our eligible professionals up to 16 weeks of paid leave, which can be used for happy occasions—to bond with family after the arrival of a child—or for challenging ones, like the illness or incapacity of a spouse, partner, sibling, parent, or grandparent. It’s gender-neutral—fathers, sons, husbands, and brothers can take the leave, relieving some of the often seen cultural pressure on women to be the default caregiver. And it’s flexible. The time can be taken all at once or in increments as the need requires.”
That paid family leave program is one of the reasons why Big D is included annually on the 100 best companies for working moms and dads. But according to the complaint, the firm actually enforces a policy that “any individual who actually takes the 16 weeks of leave offered to them by Deloitte loses the right to actually return to their prior position—or to any job at Deloitte at all.”
“While Deloitte purports to provide generous family leave to new mothers, the class-action complaint makes clear that its ‘generosity’ is all smoke and mirrors,” Knight’s attorney, Michael Willemin of Wigdor LLP, told Going Concern in a statement. “When women actually take full advantage of the leave provided by Deloitte, they actually give up important rights to return to their position—or at least to a similar position. What’s worse, Deloitte does not even tell women that they will be giving up the right to return to their position if they take full advantage of the leave offered. This is not something that Deloitte should be lauded for, and we and Ms. Knight are committed to achieving vindication for all women who have been impacted by this policy, which plainly has a disparate impact on women.”
As Law360 reported, when Knight raised discrimination concerns, she was told the company would only hold her job for 12 of those weeks, as required under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
The complaint states:
Ms. Knight took more than 12 weeks of parental leave pursuant to Deloitte’s parental leave policies. At no point in time was Ms. Knight notified that she would be penalized for taking leave as allowed for by Deloitte, nor was she told that she would be losing any rights in the event that she did not return to work within 12 weeks. If Ms. Knight had been informed that she would be losing rights in the event that she did not return to work within 12 weeks, she would have returned to work within 12 weeks, as she was ready, willing and able to do so.
According to the complaint, Knight went into labor with her second child on May 30, 2019, and began her maternity leave at that point. She took about six months of maternity leave, returning to work on Dec. 4. She claims that prior to returning, no one at Deloitte, including her direct supervisor Kent Cinquegrana, suggested that she wouldn’t be able to jump right back into her job as solutions manager for Fusion Managed Services, which is Deloitte Advisory’s cyber threat detection and response unit.
The complaint states:
[W]hen Ms. Knight returned, it quickly became clear that she would not only not be reintegrated into her prior role but also that Deloitte had no plans whatsoever for her.
Upon her return from leave, Ms. Knight made multiple efforts to discuss her role and next steps with Mr. Cinquegrana, all of which went ignored.
When she finally was able to reach him, Mr. Cinquegrana spoke in circles, failed to clarify whether Ms. Knight would be returning to her role and could not even assure Ms. Knight that there was any place for her at Deloitte. To the contrary – he told her, “you are swimming around looking for work, and you need to find the shore and start work. You are not safe in your job unless you do.”
Going Concern contacted Cinquegrana for comment via LinkedIn.
The complaint goes on to say that it became apparent Deloitte had permanently replaced Knight as solutions manager with the person who filled in for her while she was on maternity leave:
In a months-long attempt to identify a role and corresponding meaningful work activities, from December 2019 through May 2020, Ms. Knight had dozens of conversations to try to clarify her role and/or find work at Deloitte.
Ms. Knight repeatedly offered her services and support and inquired about work and potential roles in both the Commercial and Federal (“GPS”) spaces.
Despite Ms. Knight’s exceptional qualifications, experience and performance, her offers to help were almost universally turned down.
Knight eventually was assigned to two projects within GPS. However, she was only allowed to bill these clients for a total of five to 10 hours per week, according to the suit:
The only other work assigned to Ms. Knight was administrative in nature; e.g., updating slides, editing outlines for debriefs, asking the Fusion Managed Services Threat Intelligence team to create reports for several client calls, finding PowerPoint decks and other written materials, etc.
This work, of course, was not commensurate with Ms. Knight’s skills and experiences. It was demeaning and served no career development purpose whatsoever.
This past May, Knight called Deloitte’s integrity hotline to pretty much ask if all employees who come back from maternity leave are treated the way she’s been treated. The complaint states:
On May 13, 2020, Ms. Knight spoke via Skype with Lead Employee Relations Specialist Donna Rosario. During this Skype call, Ms. Knight laid out all of the foregoing and explicitly stated that she believed that the foregoing was a result of her pregnancy and related leave.
At the end of the call, rather than expressing sympathy, Ms. Rosario inappropriately demanded to know what Ms. Knight was “looking to get out of this.” Ms. Knight, who was simply trying to have the aforementioned issues resolved, explained that she “just want[ed] to find work,” feel secure and have a lasting career at Deloitte.
Unfortunately, as a result of her pregnancy and leave, as well as her protected complaints, her career at Deloitte was about to end.
On June 12, 2020, Ms. Rosario informed Ms. Knight that she had “investigated” her concerns and determined that Deloitte had complied with its legal obligations. Ms. Rosario further informed Ms. Knight that she had “closed” the case. Ms. Rosario stated that Deloitte had fulfilled its obligations by giving her a paycheck and a title. When Ms. Knight asked if not returning to having a role, or any meaningful work was also an obligation of Deloitte, Ms. Rosario said it was not.
On July 8, Knight was fired over Zoom and told that her termination was related to COVID-19 and not performance-related. Her last day was July 9.
Knight was also told by an employee relations specialist that “there was no requirement for Deloitte to return Ms. Knight to her prior role because the FMLA only provides for 12 weeks of leave, and Deloitte permits six months. [It was] intimated to Ms. Knight that her role might have been better protected had she returned from leave after the 12 weeks of FMLA leave, instead of taking the additional time offered by Deloitte,” the suit states.
Knight is suing Deloitte for violations of FMLA and the New York State Human Rights Law, including retaliation, gender discrimination, and pregnancy discrimination. Estimating that the proposed class includes thousands of women, she asked for an injunction, damages, and a jury trial, among other demands, Law360 reported.
Going Concern has reached out to Deloitte for comment.