The glass ceiling continues to prove itself to be more shatterproof than many women suspected. Most of the time, just when a woman thinks she’s broken through – or is about to breakthrough – all she finds are more roadblocks. This allegedly turned out to be the case for Nancy Saltzman after she joined ExlService Holdings in 2014 as the firm’s general counsel. As an attorney with twenty years of experience under her belt, Saltzman was the most senior female executive when she joined the publicly traded consulting firm. But even with Saltzman on the executive team, the firm’s leadership consisted primarily of men.
Saltzman said she took her role as part of the company’s leadership very seriously, knowing other women looked up to her as a role model and an example of what women could achieve, both in the company and in the world at large. But the rest of the firm’s leadership allegedly saw Saltzman’s position on the team as a challenge that needed to be squashed.
In a recent discrimination lawsuit filed against Exl, Saltzman alleges Rohit Kapoor, the firm’s CEO, blocked her from opportunities to advance her career, subjected her to more scrutiny than her male peers, and micromanaged her to a much greater extent than her male colleagues. For example, Kapoor allegedly denied her travel request for a work trip in which every other member of the executive team traveled abroad to meet with clients. Kapoor then allegedly criticized Saltzman for not spending enough time with clients.
When Saltzman took on an initiative to improve diversity among the firm’s leadership (which is allegedly still sorely lacking in diversity), Kapoor allegedly reassigned that initiative to another member of the team whose ideas of “diversity” allegedly included giving men’s neckties as a “diversity gift” – whatever that is.
The final straw for Saltzman came during a party to celebrate the firm’s 19th anniversary when Kapoor allegedly instructed her to cut the cake and serve it to the men, many of whom were outranked by Saltzman. Saltzman was humiliated and complained to Kapoor in a meeting in his office shortly afterward. Kapoor accused Saltzman of being “very emotional,” an accusation that is commonly used to dismiss women’s concerns.
Expecting Kapoor to retaliate, Saltzman said she reported the alleged gender discrimination to two other members of the firm’s executive team. She requested the firm come up with a plan to address the situation and that she be informed if Kapoor was made aware of the complaint she had filed against him.
Kapoor did, in fact, fire Saltzman, claiming he had interpreted her complaint as resigning her position with the company. Instead of protecting Saltzman from exactly this kind of retaliation, the board allegedly allowed it by granting Kapoor permission to fire Saltzman. Saltzman followed up by sending an email to one of the board members clarifying that she had never resigned her position with the company.
Now Saltzman is suing Exl, Kapoor, and several other members of the firm’s executive team for allegedly discriminating against her on the basis of her gender. The lawsuit is seeking $20 million in lost wages and punitive damages.
Saltzman said she was motivated by many of the other women at the firm who looked up to her as a role model and asked her to mentor them. Since filing her lawsuit, other women at the firm have reached out to both Saltzman and her attorney with similar allegations of discrimination at Exl.
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