By Daniel Wiessner
(Reuters) - French advertiser Publicis has agreed to pay nearly $3 million to settle claims that it discriminated against female employees based in the United States in pay and promotions and fired some of them for taking maternity leave, lawyers for the women said.
In a filing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Tuesday, the lawyers said the 2011 class action lawsuit had become increasingly complex and the settlement was the only way to avoid several more years of litigation.
"The parties would face enormous expense and burden in conducting (discovery) ... proceeding to trial, and pursuing appeals," the lawyers wrote.
Under the agreement, which must be approved by a federal judge in New York, 75 current and former Publicis employees will receive average awards of more than $13,000. Their legal team will get nearly $1.5 million, which the lawyers said was a small fraction of what they would be due if they billed for the hours they worked on the case.
Publicis and its lawyers did not immediately return requests for comment on Wednesday.
Gender discrimination lawsuits have become increasingly common in the United States over the last several years, with a range of companies including Novartis and Bank of America Corp agreeing to multimillion-dollar settlements. Many other companies are currently facing such claims, including technology giants Twitter Inc and Microsoft Corp.
The Publicis lawsuit, which originally sought $100 million, was filed by Monique da Silva Moore, who was global healthcare director in the Boston office of the company's public relations division, MSLGroup.
The lawsuit says that upon her return from a four-month maternity leave in 2010, Da Silva Moore was ordered to move immediately to New York without reimbursement for relocation expenses, forcing her to accept termination.
At least two other women who returned from maternity leave were also terminated while the company promoted and hired men at a disproportionately high rate, the lawsuit claimed.
The case is Monique Da Silva Moore v Publicis Groupe, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 11-1279.
(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Christian Plumb)