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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Former Procter & Gamble Brand Manager's Glass Ceiling Lawsuit Stays On Track: Career Path Dead-Ended By 4 Pregnancies in 5 Years?

Ex-P&G Manager's Glass Ceiling Lawsuit
[UPDATE 1/23/2012 2:40 p.m. -- Federal court records show the parties reached a settlement and a conditional order dismissing the case was signed by Judge Black last Friday.  No details about the terms were disclosed.  If the settlement is not consummated, both sides have the option to reopen the lawsuit.]

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- A federal judge in Cincinnati rejected Procter & Gamble's efforts to end a gender discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by a fired mid-level manager who contends motherhood harmed a rising corporate career.  Elizabeth Adkison's case against the consumer products giant probably will get to a jury sometime next year.  U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Black issued a 45-page ruling Monday in Cincinnati that reveals a lot about the internal workings of P&G, including a tidbit that the company wondered if Crest Whitestips was a "viable business."

P&G hired Adkison in 1996 out of Taylor University in Indiana, where she graduated with dual bachelor degrees in accounting and business administration.  Her first job was as a purchasing manager.  Her first maternity leave came in 2003.  During the years Adkison was with the corporation, P&G says there was no discrimination and contends Adkison was terminated because she was not competitive with her peers and failed to improve.  The company contends the firing decision was based on Adkison's inability to collaborate effectively, refusal to accept feedback, and lack of ability to energize, engage and demonstrate leadership skills in an Associate Marketing Director position.  An Associate Marketing Director is about half-way up the P&G career ladder to a General Manager -- it takes about 17-20 years to reach that post from entry level.

Court's Decision Page
By July 2004, Adkison was on her second maternity leave.  While out, she was made a Brand Manager in Crest.  Her role involved Professional and Consumer Credentialing.  By 2005, Crest Whitestrips had gone from a successful highly product, launched in 2001, to a business with serious problems.  U.S. District Judge Tim Black said Adkison applied for her third maternity leave in January 2006 and wanted 12 weeks off.  Meanwhile, the judge said Crest Whitestrips was sinking, "In fiscal year 2004-2005 the CWS business had  declined 26% -- a level of decline that was highly unusual in consumer goods.  As a result, there was significant personnel turnover, numerous agency meetings and a number of discussions centered on whether CWS would continue to be a viable business."  Adkison's  bosses decided they could not leave her job open for 12 weeks during the maternity leave because of the need for day-to-day decisions.  They came up with a job shifting plan, and Adkison cut her 12 weeks to 8 weeks for pregnancy.  Eventually, Adkison was moved to Vicks.  In January 2008, she told her bosses she was pregnant again and would be taking another maternity leave.  The judge said there was a falling out over performance and collaboration issues.

By May 2009, Adkison was told she could opt to work under a performance improvement plan, or accept voluntary separation.  Her boss urged her to take the separation package.  By 2009 Adkison was complaining that she had been the victim of gender and maternity discrimination.  P&G's human resources department investigated and concluded the claims were unsubstantiated.  The judge said a jury should decide whether Adkison's boss at P&G gave her "poor reviews" on performance fairly.  Or were the reviews a pretext for discrimination?  Judge Black wrote:

"[the boss] based her ratings and poor reviews of Plaintiff's efforts on her performance improvement plan on [the boss] views that Plaintiff was unable to internalize feedback, lacked the ability to engage and failed to demonstrate leadership skills.  Adkison's challenges [the boss] credibility and asserts that her stated reasons were fabricated to conceal the discriminatory motive to Adkison's termination. . . Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff has presented a genuine issue of material fact regarding [the boss] credibility, which therefore requires a jury determination of whether Procter & Gamble's stated reason for Plaintiff's termination was merely a pretext to conceal a true discriminatory motive."

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