A former Navicor employee is suing the agency and its leaders, saying it has a Mad Men-like atmosphere of sexual harassment and discrimination against women.
Former employee Michele Zwiebel has sued Navicor, an oncology-focused marketing agency, its parent company Syneos Health, and two Navicor executives in the sexual harassment and workplace discrimination case filed in district court in Pennsylvania.
Zwiebel, who was fired from Navicor in August 2017, said in the lawsuit that several executives at the firm engaged in sexual harassment, discriminated against women in the office, and created a hostile work environment. She also said she was wrongfully terminated after complaining about the work environment.
The lawsuit names Navicor president David Querry and managing director Marvin Bowe as defendants alongside the two companies. The complaint also alleged that other male executives participated in the harassment. In a response to the complaint, Navicor, Syneos, Querry, and Bowe have denied the allegations.
A Syneos spokesperson confirmed that Bowe has recently resigned from Navicor, and Querry has stepped in to lead the Philadelphia office.
A Navicor company representative said in an emailed statement, “At Navicor, we take all complaints, including lawsuits, extremely seriously. Consistent with this, it is not our practice to comment on pending litigation.”
Zwiebel said executives would make comments about women’s bodies and give unwanted “long hugs,” according to the complaint. Zwiebel alleged that one executive, VP and creative director James Griffith, would make comments such as “If you keep losing weight, I won’t be able to control myself,” and “I love it when you walk in front of me.”
Other leaders, including Bowe and Querry, would also make comments about women’s bodies and talk openly about cheating on their spouses, according to the lawsuit.
She also alleged that women were not given the same opportunities and were treated as inferior to male employees in the office. In one instance named in the complaint, Zwiebel and two other women were asked to submit presentation slides for review while male presenters were not.
In another cited example, Bowe was said to have admitted he only hired a junior employee because of her fun personality, charm, and energy, and because male clients would love looking at her.
The execs would also badmouth female clients, according to the lawsuit, allegedly calling one group of women clients “femi-nazi man haters.”
Because of these comments and actions, Zwiebel complained to human resources three times between November 2016 and June 2017, but the incidents were not properly investigated, according to the suit. In one instance, an HR employee allegedly told Zwiebel, “Well, we all know how Frank [Lescas, SVP of account services] is. How long do you think you will be able to tolerate it here?”
After the second complaint, Navicor’s HR department said it was looking into the matter, but that investigation was not completed. After the third complaint in June 2017, Zwiebel was fired from the firm, despite having no previous performance or disciplinary warnings, according to court documents.
Zwiebel also alleged the company made up a reason to fire her. She was told she was being terminated for making a comment at a company happy hour that women must trade sexual favors to advance at Navicor. She and two other employees at the happy hour denied this happened, but Zwiebel was fired. Zwiebel alleged her termination was retaliatory for reporting the sexual harassment and hostile work environment at Navicor.
Scott Goldshaw, attorney for Zwiebel, said in a statement that others have supported Zwiebel’s accounts.
“Several people have already given statements in support of our claims, and we are expecting and looking forward to others coming forward as well,” Goldshaw said in an emailed statement. “We are eager for the opportunity to prove our claims in court.”
Zwiebel has asked for a trial by jury and is seeking damages for emotional pain and suffering, back pay, and an injunction prohibiting the defendants from maintaining a hostile working environment based on sex, from engaging in sexual harassment, and from engaging in retaliatory actions at Navicor.
The defendants have denied all of Zwiebel’s allegations in court documents. They asserted the company and leaders consistently maintained, implemented, and enforced its policy against discrimination and harassment and that the actions taken against Zwiebel — including her termination — were based on legitimate, not retaliatory, reasons.
Navicor was founded in 2004 in Columbus, Ohio. The firm also has an office in Philadelphia, where Zwiebel worked. Navicor has been part of Syneos, previously inVentiv Health, for more than a decade.