Working Women's Group Blitzed From Within
BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) - The National Association of Professional Women is a "sham" that cheats its staff and turns a blind eye to internal sexual harassment complaints, a federal class claims.
Lisa Delisi, Crystal Alexander, Monique McCabe and Anika Cosbert sued the organization; its founder, Matthew Proman; their supervisor, Krissy DeMonte; and the organization's attorney, Chris Wesser; in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
They say the organization "purports to be an exclusive network of professional women which provides a platform for professional women to interact, exchange ideas and educate and empower themselves."
In reality, however, it "engages in deceitful business practices and preys on unsuspecting women who are tricked into expending vast sums of money in order to join its so-called 'exclusive network,'" the lawsuit states. "In fact, this 'network' is anything but 'exclusive,' as NAPW grants any woman willing to pay a membership fee admission."
The organization did not return a request for comment left early Monday morning. It did, however, deny "scam" labels in a 2009 defamation complaint.
In the latest lawsuit, the former employees hoping to represent a class accuse the association forcing them to make cold-calls and read from a script telling members they have been selected as "NAPW Executive and Professional Woman of the Year." For the recipient to actually receive the award, however, she must first upgrade her membership to a VIP level, "which can only be achieved by paying hundreds of dollars more to NAPW," the lawsuit states.
But the organization's alleged "outrageous practices extend beyond its business dealings and reach into its workplace," the lawsuit claims. "Indeed, despite touting itself as a company that empowers women, NAPW has demonstrated a perverse pattern and practice of facilitating, tolerating and/or condoning disgusting sexual harassment and discrimination committed by its supervisors against its female employees."
Plaintiff DeLisi, who began working for the organization in April 2008 as a salesperson, says her female supervisor, defendant DeMonte, constantly pinched, slapped and groped her buttocks in a "sexually perverse manner," and frequently called her a "bitch" and a "fucking bitch."
DeLisi says her complaints fell "completely on deaf ears," and that the company failed to do anything to stop the alleged harassment. Instead, she was demoted.
The stress caused her to take a medically approved disability leave and allegedly file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
She says that when she returned to work, she was subjected to an even more hostile work environment. In one instance, her workspace was dismantled after she had taken a single day off from work, according to the complaint.
Plaintiff Alexander says she was fired as a saleswoman for complaining of defendant DeMonte's alleged unwanted sexual attention, saying that she was constantly slapped and pinched in the buttocks and called "sexy" and "cutie" by DeMonte.
Plaintiff McCabe says DeMonte slapped her buttocks on a nearly daily basis, and that she was fired for complaining. "Most disturbingly," she says, defendant Proman called her on her cellphone and told her she'd never work in New York again, adding, "I'm coming after you now."
Plaintiff Cosbert also says she was fired for complaining about the unwanted sexual attention from DeMonte.
The organization also makes unlawful deductions from wages, commissions and bonuses that employees earn, according to the complaint. Employees who are late, for example, allegedly face fines and loss of eligibility for bonuses, disproportionate to the amount of time missed.
On the third occasion that a salesperson is late, whether or not the lateness is excusable, she allegedly loses $100 from her weekly paycheck and is deemed ineligible for monthly bonuses based on performances. The company also deducts $100 from commissions earned by salespeople who take more days off than their allowed time off, the lawsuit states.
The organization also deducts commissions from salespeople who commit two infractions of its arbitrary "Sales Compliance Policy," which requires that workers take certain steps and say certain exact words during each and every telephone interview or sales call, according to the complaint.
The women seek damages for discrimination, harassment, retaliation and unlawful deductions.
They are represented by Douglas Wigdor with Thompson Wigdor in Manhattan.