A former Empire State Realty Trust executive alleges that she was fired after complaining that the head of the company repeatedly called her “too old” and “a fossil” and gave her responsibilities to a younger woman based solely on her age.
Audrey Pass, former chief marketing officer at the real estate investment trust, filed a lawsuit against ESRT and CEO Anthony Malkin, alleging that she was fired as retaliation for reporting age discrimination at the company. She’s seeking $5 million in damages.
Pass started working as CMO in April 2015, charged with marketing the Empire State Building Observatory and Empire State Building’s brand. Though she’d repeatedly received positive feedback for her work, Pass claims Malkin “developed a perception that Pass would not be able to do her job because of her age, regardless of Pass’ actual performance” in the fall of 2017. At the time, an ESRT consultant informed Malkin that a pitch to Airbnb wasn’t successful because Pass “was not a millennial,” the lawsuit states.
After a meeting with Nike on October 19, 2017, which ultimately didn’t lead to a business relationship, Malkin blamed the fact that he and Pass were “too old and too white” and that “Pass, in particular, was not physically ‘fit’ enough to represent ESRT,” according to the lawsuit. He subsequently removed her from ESRT’s Nike and Under Armour accounts, and tapped two younger employees of color to pitch the companies, according to the lawsuit. They too, according to the complaint, were unsuccessful in winning over the companies.
Malkin didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Malkin allegedly referred to Pass as a “fossil” and “Analogue Audrey” in front of co-workers, and told her she’d “never understand social media,” despite the fact that she created ESRT’s social media presence and ran several successful campaigns, according to the lawsuit. Her social media responsibility were assigned to a new employee who was in her 20s, according to the lawsuit. Pass was 52 years old at the time.
Pass initially complained to human resources in June 2018, and then again the following month. According to the lawsuit, Pass was placed on a performance improvement plan after human resources conducted an investigation into her claims. Pass alleges that ESRT’s general counsel made “disingenuous excuses” for Malkin’s behavior. Though she was commended for her role in promoting the Empire State Building on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in October, ESRT extended her performance improvement plan, the complaint states. When Pass complained about the extension, she was fired, according to the lawsuit.
She was terminated in October 29, 2018.
Over the years, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, other real estate companies and executives have faced accusations of age discrimination and sexual harassment, including Bank OZK, WeWork, Cushman & Wakefield and Newmark Knight Frank.