Marilyn Ducksworth, longtime director of corporate communications for Penguin Group USA, filed an age discrimination lawsuit on Wednesday afternoon in New York Supreme Court. Ducksworth, who was also senior v-p and executive director of publicity for G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Riverhead Books and associate publisher of Putnam, left Penguin August 31 after a 27-year career with the publishing house. Among the details in the complaint is the assertion that she was kept from helping to plan for the transition as Penguin CEO from David Shanks to CFO Coram Williams in January 2014.
A spokesperson for Penguin said Thursday morning that the company had not yet seen the complaint, but said in a statement: "If a complaint is filed, the true facts will be presented to the court in due course. We can state categorically that it was Marilyn Ducksworth's decision to resign and that Penguin does not condone, nor was there, any age discrimination or retaliation involved in her decision to leave."
In her complaint, Ducksworth alleges that beginning in mid-2011 Penguin president Susan Petersen Kennedy “began a campaign to marginalize Ducksworth and other older, long term members of Ducksworth’s staff.” The complaint charges that a reorganizational plan implemented by Kennedy removed Ducksworth from overseeing corporate communications and from her roles at Putnam and Riverhead which were to be run by Ivan Held and Geoff Kloske, respectively. Kennedy also forced Ducksworth to demote two key publicity team members, David Zimmer and Michael Barson, both about 60 years old. (Ducksworth turned 56 earlier this year.) The complaint continues that Zimmer and Barson were replaced with two employees under 40 years old. Another member of Ducksworth staff, Min-Ho Cha, 49, left Penguin in June after her charges of age discrimination were met with retaliatory actions, the complaint states.
Although Ducksworth reported to Shanks, the complaint states that Kennedy told Ducksworth that since Kennedy joined Penguin she had been reviewing all departments and that she “saved [Ducksworth] for last.” The complaint states that while Kennedy never gave her a business reason for reorganizing her department, in a meeting with Kennedy, Kloske and Held, Held said that Penguin wanted individuals “who are faster, stronger and more nimble because the older, slower version doesn’t work any more.”
As the result of the “deliberate, unrelenting undermining of Ducksworth’s status,” the complaint says, she decided to leave Penguin at the end of August “to avoid any further damage” to her professional reputation.” Ducksworth is seeking back pay and front pay, punitive damages, attorney's fees, and compensatory and other damages.
In a statement, Ducksworth said: "After 28 years, I had planned to spend the rest of my career at Penguin Group (USA), continuing to work with distinguished and celebrated authors that I have had the privilege to represent."