CVC Capital settles gender bias claims

A statement on CVC’s website said the terms of the settlement are confidential, but included no admission of wrongdoing by the firm. The plaintiff, Lisa Lee, will serve as a consultant to CVC over the coming months “regarding matters of diversity and inclusion, including improving opportunities for women,” according to the statement.

Lee, who had been based in the firm’s New York office, was fired in February 2015. She is now a managing director with private equity firm Providence Equity Partners in New York.

Lee sued the UK private equity firm over her firing in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in January. She claimed that she was sidelined after taking maternity leave and passed over for promotions in favour of male colleagues, and that she was let go shortly after filing a written complaint about gender discrimination to her superiors.

Lee also alleged CVC’s female employees endured a “hostile” work environment in which inappropriate sexual behaviour by male colleagues goes unpunished. She claimed that none of the firm’s 54 senior private equity executives are women.

CVC denied the accusations in a March court filing, claiming Lee was fired as part of a “wider restructuring” of her department, and calling the alleged bias she experienced “petty slights and trivial inconveniences.” In the months since, the two sides have been wrangling over what documents CVC would be required to produce, according to court filings.

Lee’s suit was the first high-profile gender-discrimination case in the buyout industry, which in its decades-long history has been known for its gender imbalance, particularly at the highest ranks. A study released this year by the World Economic Forum concluded the industry lagged behind other businesses in gender equality, with women making up one in seven senior executives.

Lee’s suit brought attention to this gender imbalance. It was filed months after Ellen Pao lost a sex-discrimination case against her former employee, venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

London-based CVC is among the world’s largest private equity firms, and has raised about $ 71 billion for its private equity and credit funds.

A spokesman for the firm declined to comment on the settlement.

Lee graduated from Stanford University and received a master of business administration degree from Harvard University. She joined CVC’s investor-relations department in 2009 and was made managing director in 2012. In a statement, her attorney said she “is passionate about fostering an industry culture that is welcoming to and supportive of all people.”

Write to Chris Cumming at chris.cumming@wsj.com

This article was published by The Wall Street Journal

Corrections & Amplifications: The plaintiff, former managing director Lisa Lee, will be a consultant to CVC Capital Partners on issues of gender balance and diversity. An earlier version of this article misstated that Lee will remain with the firm as a consultant.

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