Two former female Booz Allen partners file suits

August 21, 2011

Two former high-ranking partners at Booz Allen Hamilton have filed suit in recent weeks against the McLean-based contracting giant, alleging that they were fired because of their gender.

Margo Fitzpatrick, who had worked in Booz Allen’s finance business since 1999, filed the latest suit last Friday in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against the company and some of its top officials. Her suit follows one filed by Molly Finn, who was at one time the company’s highest-ranking female employee and worked on Booz Allen’s environmental business.

The two complaints paint a picture of Booz Allen as a workplace where a “glass ceiling” existed limiting how high women could rise, and where contracts or programs they won were given away to male employees. Finn and Fitzpatrick describe top company leadership as unwelcoming to women, particularly pointing to overseas golf trips that never included women.

“Although several women partners are capable golfers,” Fitzpatrick said in her filing, “no woman has ever been invited on these trips.”

The lawsuits are unusual for a company that has long been regarded as one of the region’s most successful and best-run government contractors. Booz Allen has reported strong sales and profits since going public late last year.

The company said it does not comment on specific personnel situations but strongly denies the allegations.

“Booz Allen has a performance-based culture that is rigorous at the partner level, and decisions are made based on merit, not gender,” the company said in a statement. It said it will contest both suits.

Fitzpatrick, now 49, joined Booz Allen in 1999 as a senior associate tasked with working on a major initiative at the Internal Revenue Service. In 2001, she was promoted to principal and in 2005, to partner. In 2009, according to her suit, the finance and citizen services team was reorganized and Fitzpatrick began working for Lloyd Howell, named as a defendant and tapped to lead a new financial services team.

Fitzpatrick claims in the suit that Howell used “sexist humor” — once complaining that two women on his team “must have been involved in sororities in college, since they caused so much ‘drama.’ ”

Fitzpatrick, a lesbian, claims her sexual orientation also played a role in her dismissal.

As an entry-level partner, Fitzpatrick needed to be promoted within 5.5 years or she’d be terminated. Despite positive assessments that praised her ability to build a new business within the finance market, Fitzpatrick says in the suit that she was informed in September 2010 that she’d been rated “off track” and would be let go.

In an interview, she said her career options are dramatically constrained by a non-compete agreement that prevents her from taking a job with another management consulting firm. She is planning to start her own commercially focused digital media marketing company.

Fitzpatrick’s suit closely follows one filed earlier in the summer by Finn, who named as defendants the company as well as Ralph W. Shrader, who is the chief executive, chairman and president, and other senior officials.

Finn claimed in her suit that Howell told her to stop saying “pro-woman, feminist things” to Shrader, and she said other partners told her that Shrader opposed her promotion.

“The Leadership Team, led by Defendant Ralph Shrader, relied upon sexist and stereotypically derogatory views of women in determining that Ms. Finn” should be dismissed, the suit said.

A Booz Allen spokeswoman said neither Shrader nor Howell were available for comment.

The company has acknowledged the challenges of moving more women into top roles, convening senior executives at a 2004 event focused on women’s leadership, according to briefing materials for the event provided by Fitzpatrick’s attorney.

The document, intended to be read before the gathering, noted that women “remain a minority at all senior levels in the firm, particularly in corporate governance and strategic decision-making roles.”

“In view of the absence of a critical mass of women in senior ranks, both business units face significant challenges in developing women as leaders and introducing greater diversity into senior roles,” the document added.

In an e-mail Friday, Booz Allen said many women are in the pipeline for senior partner, and 21 percent of its partners are women. The company said four women lead the company’s largest market accounts: Army, Navy, National Security Agency and U.S. government classified business.

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