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Stamford commodities firm faces discrimination lawsuit

November 4, 2016

STAMFORD — A former employee of Stamford-based Gerald Metals filed last week an age and gender discrimination lawsuit against the company, in a case that also represents one of the first to invoke the state’s anti-pay secrecy law.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, the lawsuit alleges that the company’s treatment of Roxanne Khazarian, 61, reflected a culture of “widespread and systemic age discrimination against its employees, generally, and older female employees particularly.”

The lawsuit is seeking $3.5 million in damages against Gerald Metals, which is part of the Gerald Group, a global commodities trading firm. Khazarian, a Stratford resident, has suffered substantial losses in wages and benefits and severe emotional trauma, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit also accuses Gerald of forbidding employees to openly discuss their compensation. Connecticut’s 2015 pay secrecy act prohibits employers from forbidding or discouraging staff from talking about their pay with their colleagues, a measure implemented partly to help women learn whether they are receiving equal compensation with men for comparable work.

“Pay secrecy is the linchpin to discrimination in compensation based on gender or age,” said Gary Phelan, Khazarian’s lawyer, who works for the Stratford firm Mitchell & Sheahan. “This case highlights the need for transparency when dealing with compensation issues in the workplace.”

A woman who answered Gerald’s main phone line this week said “we don’t take these calls,” when asked by a reporter for the appropriate company contact to comment on the lawsuit. She then hung up.

Phelan also represented former Gerald employee Denise Isherwood, who filed last year the first lawsuit to invoke the state’s anti-pay secrecy law.

“The matter has been resolved,” Phelan said of the Isherwood case. He declined to comment further on that lawsuit.

Allegations of long-term discrimination

Throughout her approximately eight years as an attorney at Gerald — she would reach the level of general counsel — Khazarian faced a discriminatory and unfair workplace environment, according to the lawsuit. While she produced top-class work, she received only one annual salary increase after her probationary period — and only then after she said that she would file age and gender discrimination claims, the complaint said.

While Khazarian did not see her compensation increase with increased responsibility, younger and male employees received greater pay when their own roles expanded, according to the lawsuit.

Other older employees also allegedly faced unjust treatment by not receiving raises as frequently as younger colleagues, not being paid at market rates for their work and not being given opportunities to apply for positions.

To prevent employees from finding out how male and younger colleagues made more than female and older counterparts, Gerald barred Khazarian and other employees from discussing their own or others’ compensation, according to the lawsuit.

In contrast with older employees like Khazarian, some younger female employees received preferential treatment, according to the lawsuit. The complaint cites three female workers whom it said received higher compensation, more flexible work schedules and more social invitations than older female counterparts.

The lawsuit also describes an allegedly hostile and retaliatory environment that disproportionately punished female employees. When Kazarian complained in August 2013 about age and sex discrimination she was given a written warning for being disruptive, according to the lawsuit.

Some male employees got away with abusive behavior, according to the lawsuit. Khazarian was physically assaulted by a male colleague in 2012, but the man was not punished, the complaint said. Khazarian was reportedly reprimanded instead.

In January, Khazarian filed complaints alleging age and gender discrimination and retaliation against Gerald with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Khazarian’s relationship with Gerald executives would allegedly further deteriorate after she filed those complaints. The company allegedly surveilled her digital footprint, including her email. CEO Craig Dean issued warnings to Khazarian for alleged wrongdoing but failed to provide Khazarian with details, despite repeated requests by Khazarian for more information, according to the lawsuit.

Gerald Metals fired Khazarian in April.

pschott@scni.com; 203-964-2236; twitter: @paulschott