The former head of research for the Americas at Cushman & Wakefield has filed a $40 million lawsuit against the real estate giant, alleging gender discrimination, after she was fired from her position and replaced by a younger male employee.
Maria Sicola, 60, was fired October 2 – the day before her 60th birthday – after nearly 35 years with the company.
Sicola’s replacement was 39-year-old Kevin Thorpe, who was previously the chief economist for DTZ, before that company merged with Cushman & Wakefield in September.
The complaint was filed October 6 by Sanford Heisler Kimpel, LLP in New York State Supreme Court.
Sicola had been expected by many to be the top pick for the new global head of research position after C&W’s merger with DTZ.
Instead, the complaint alleges, the company promoted Thorpe, who had “no management or global experience in his prior role as Chief Economist for DTZ,” according to the suit.
Sicola was terminated with four days’ notice, effective one business day before she was to attend the annual Urban Land Institute (ULI) Conference, where she had organized a collaboration between ULI’s Women’s Leadership Initiative and Cushman & Wakefield to promote C&W’s recently launched Women’s Integrated Network.. She was also scheduled to appear in a real estate panel during the conference.
According to the complaint, C&W told her not to attend the conference, and sent her replacement, Thorpe, to fill in for her at the event.
“Ms. Sicola’s unceremonious termination is textbook discrimination,” said David Sanford, Chairman of Sanford Heisler Kimpel, LLP, in a press release. “C&W passed her up for promotion and terminated her in favor of a younger and less qualified male employee.”
The suit alleges Sicola was discriminated against “on the basis of gender and age in pay, promotion, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of her employment.”
“By discriminating and retaliating against Ms. Sicola on the basis of her gender and age by marginalizing, underpaying, failing to promote and, ultimately, wrongfully terminating her, Cushman & Wakefield has violated the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, California public policy, and the California Unfair Competition Law,” reads the complaint.
Sicola worked at C&W’s NYC offices from 1981 until 2006, when she moved to California with her wife, Wendy, who is also a former C&W employee. She was working out of the company’s San Francisco offices until she was let go.
A spokesperson for Cushman & Wakefield told Real Estate Weekly “Our policy is to not comment on legal matters.”
The suit comes two years after former executive Suzy Reingold filed a $20 million lawsuit against Cushman & Wakefield in October of 2013, alleging that she was discriminated against for her age and gender after being passed over for a top position.
Reingold joined C&W in 2005 and was COO of its Tri-State region office. In February 2013, the firm hired 38-year-old Ron Lo Russo from Vornado Realty Trust to be the new president, passing Reingold over for the position. She filed the lawsuit later that year, seeking unpaid wages, back pay and damages, and then resigned from the company.
Since then, Reingold has developed a successful consulting business since leaving C&W, after her lawsuit against the firm was resolved out of court.
The 68-year-old lawyer told Real Estate Weekly that she is currently working with Colliers International as well as other real estate and recruitment firms, assisting them in identifying candidates for assignments and developing new business. She is also acting as an expert witness in various real estate-related litigations.
Reingold was unable to comment on this latest lawsuit, but said she had worked with Sicola in the past, calling her “a very well-qualified executive with an excellent skill set who was well liked by her colleagues.” She added, “I worked with Maria Sicola for many years and always found her to perform at the highest level.”