The firm's first sex-discrimination case heads for a Texas court

To Suzanne Porter, joining McKinsey & Co. as a freshly minted MBA was the start of a dream career. She had eagerly sought out the elite consulting operation, which dangles high starting salaries in front of new MBAs. But a decade later, Porter says she can't find herself a permanent position as a result of an ugly dispute with the white-shoe firm.

Through seven years as a McKinsey consultant in Texas, Porter claims she often faced blatant sexual harassment from several of the firm's partners. Despite what she calls ''outstanding'' performance reviews, her supervisors declined to nominate her for partner. Like all associates who don't make the cut, she was forced out of the firm nine months later. But in the interim, in early 1993, she filed a sexual-discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Porter alleges that McKinsey then retaliated by persuading at least two potential employers not to hire her, and in 1994, she filed suit. In August, 1995, McKinsey fired her husband, B.G. Porter, also a consultant at the firm, two weeks after he gave a deposition in support of her claims in the lawsuit.

McKinsey declined to be interviewed for this story but submitted elaborate documentation, complete with charts and graphs, in an effort to disprove Porter's allegations, which it maintains are unfounded. The firm says she was fired because she had difficulty working with others, required a high degree of supervision, lacked analytical rigor, and reached conclusions with insufficient data. McKinsey says it fired her husband, who is also suing, because he had ''secretly recorded numerous telephone conversations with various potential witnesses'' in his wife's case.

For the tony consulting firm, whose alums include the chieftains of such corporate heavyweights as American Express, IBM, and Westinghouse Electric, the litigation is a nasty scandal it had hoped to keep hidden from public view. McKinsey's lawyers, for example, have gained a protective order to keep many of the documents secret. The suit, expected to go to trial early next year in a Dallas district court, represents the first time the publicity-shy firm has ever been involved in anything resembling a public brawl.

Indeed, unlike many blue-chip law firms that were hit with major discrimination lawsuits a few years ago, most of the prestige consulting firms have been relatively untarnished by claims of sexual discrimination or harassment. Booz, Allen & Hamilton Inc. currently has two sexual-discrimination complaints pending against it before the EEOC, which it says are groundless. Booz says 5% of its partners are women today, up from 3% in 1993. McKinsey says 6.6% of its partners are women. Some 28% of Booz's associates are women, compared with 19% at McKinsey.

After joining the Dallas office in 1986, Porter says she routinely found herself assigned to such clients as children's hospitals, nursing homes, retailers, and jewelry companies, while her male counterparts got experience working for major clients in the energy and technology fields. McKinsey calls this claim ''completely bogus.'' Although she says she expressed concern over those jobs, Porter says she was assured by McKinsey that she was on track to become a partner. She also says she received five annual bonuses for ''outstanding'' performance--the highest level possible. By the time she left, Porter had advanced to senior engagement manager, the highest rank below partner. McKinsey doesn't deny giving Porter the promotions or bonuses but says her performance and her total compensation were below that of her peers.

''WOLVES.'' Through it all, Porter claims she had to cope with frequent sexual advances at the firm. One partner, she alleges, told her that it gave him an orgasm to hug her. On an assignment in Japan, Porter charges, a married partner made sexual advances to her during a business meeting in his hotel room, even hiding the keys to her own room to persuade her to stay with him. Porter says she did not complain for fear of retaliation. ''If you talk to your partners about it, you feed yourself to the wolves.'' McKinsey says it later investigated the incident and concluded it never happened. Those allegations are not a part of Porter's suit against Mc-Kinsey because she failed to include them in her EEOC complaint. That disqualified them from the ongoing litigation, the Dallas judge ruled.

By mid-1992, Porter was told by partner Tom Tinsley that the Texas partners would not support her election to partnership. He cited, she says, her lack of ''core client experience'' and the fact that her husband, then a Mc-Kinsey analyst, was about to move to Boston to attend Harvard business school. ''Once you got married,'' Porter says, ''the partners believed your obligation was to be with your husband and to have children.'' McKinsey says Porter was not qualified for election to partnership.

After she filed her EEOC claim in early 1993, Porter alleges that McKinsey bad-mouthed her to potential employers, including Goldman, Sachs & Co., which failed to offer her a job. Now, she wants vindication for herself and her husband in court. No matter who wins this legal battle, there's bound to be plenty of mud spattered on McKinsey's white shoes.

By John A. Byrne in New York


Updated June 14, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1996, Bloomberg L.P.
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