Cushman & Wakefield is facing a third gender and age discrimination lawsuit in four years after a former director alleged in a $4 million suit that she was wrongfully terminated and replaced by an inexperienced, under-qualified male.
Hongmei “Janice” Li, who is of Chinese origin, was demoted and then fired from her role as director of Cushman’s Asia Pacific International Desk, or iDesk, in December after more than three years with the brokerage, according to a complaint filed Thursday in New York State Supreme Court.
Noting that Cushman & Wakefield “has become infamous for discriminating in employment against women, older people and minorities,” the 47-year-old Li claims Cushman informed her that she was “too senior” and replaced her with Sam King – “a younger, white, English male employee with less knowledge, tenure and relevant experience.”
It’s at least the third discrimination lawsuit filed against the company since 2013. That year, former COO Suzy Reingold alleged that Cushman passed her over for promotion on the basis of age and gender. Reingold’s suit was eventually “resolved,” she told The Real Deal shortly after her departure from the firm in 2014.
In October of 2015, another executive — Maria Sicola, Cushman’s former head of research for the Americas — filed a $40 million lawsuit alleging she was fired and replaced by a 39-year-old man who lacked any management experience.
Li’s lawsuit alleges her termination was “the culmination of a pattern of discriminatory conduct” by Cushman — with Li “subjected to prejudiced comments and behaviors on the basis of her Chinese national origin, including being made fun of for her accent,” during her time with the company.
Li’s complaint adds that Cushman justified Li’s termination by noting that her position was being “eliminated” due to a “reorganization” in wake of the brokerage’s $2 billion merger with fellow commercial real estate giant DTZ last fall.
The suit disputes that explanation, instead claiming that Li’s departure from the company “was instead the result of blatant discrimination.”
Li’s legal action also names as a defendant Cushman senior managing director and International Desk head Peter Victor. She is seeking back pay, front pay and compensatory and “emotional distress” damages amounting to more than $4 million.
A spokesperson for Cushman said the firm does not comment on pending litigation. Li could not be reached for comment.