Former Kargo Sales Exec Awarded $40 Million in Arbitration Over Gender Wage Discrimination, Wrongful Termination

Arbiter says treatment was 'malicious, insidious and humiliating'

Alexis Berger was mobile ad firm Kargo's highest paid employee before being ousted.
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Alexis Berger, former svp of sales for the Midwest and West Coast offices of mobile advertising company Kargo, has been awarded more than $40 million in a third-party arbitration ruling obtained by Adweek.

The case alleged that Berger had been a victim of gender discrimination, retaliation, equal pay violation, violation of wage law and breach of contract.

According to testimony and memos from Kargo executives, Berger was placed on leave for poor performance and rude treatment of her employees, then terminated for cause after violating a noncompete clause.

The arbiter, however, eviscerated the company’s claims by detailing alleged inconsistencies, inaccuracies and poorly handled internal investigations into Berger’s performance.

“Sexual discrimination was, at the very least, a motivating factor in her termination,” wrote Judge Billie Colombaro, the arbitrator of the case, in her 83-page ruling (see full document embedded at the bottom of this article). “This was a collaborative orchestration carried out in a malicious, insidious, and humiliating manner, having the effect of depriving her of her earned commissions, her retention bonus, her stock options, her position, her livelihood, and her dignity.”

Kargo disputes the arbiter’s assessment and plans to fight the decision.

“For 14 years, our company has endeavored to provide full and equal opportunities to our employees, and it is at the core of our culture,” a Kargo spokesperson wrote in a statement e-mailed to Adweek. “Alexis was a close friend of our founder and was the highest paid executive in the entire company. We believe that the award rests upon a manifest disregard of the NY Law and will, at a minimum, be substantially set aside. We look forward to telling the full story in our upcoming legal filings.”

Arbiter Colombaro found multiple examples of what she described as evidence Berger was treated differently and more harshly because she was a woman.

In some cases, Colombaro found that male staffers were not disciplined when they “behaved in the same or worse manner as that for which Kargo disciplined Ms. Berger,” noting that complaints by women against an abrasive male executive were ignored because, per the HR manager, “he was just being a boy.”

But Berger was also targeted with inappropriate comments based on her gender and sexuality, the document says, specifically citing incidents allegedly involving Kevin Canty, Kargo’s svp of sales for the east.

“At retreats, [Canty] would comment on [Berger’s] sexuality and talk about ‘flipping her back.’ (She is gay.) He also asked her and her partner in Cannes to have ‘a threesome with him,'” wrote Colombaro in the award.

Timeline of events

Berger was hired in August 2012 when Kargo was still considered a “start-up,” according to the arbitration documents, and she reportedly helped grow the company from $5 million in annual revenue to $135 million in annual revenue at the end of 2015.

Initially hired as the vp of sales for the company’s midwest territory, Berger was promoted in August 2015 by Kargo CEO Harry Kargman, putting her over the company’s West Coast sales operations as well. Before her termination she managed nearly 30 employees and was the agency’s most highly paid employee.

"My peers said they wished I didn't always have Berger's back, that I was too close to her, and that's why they kept things from me."
Kargo CEO Harry Kargman in arbitration testimony

Kargman and Berger had a “very close, synergistic relationship, personally and professionally, based on mutual respect, business values and trust,” according to the arbitration documents, with Kargman considering himself to be Berger’s “work husband.”

That relationship allegedly bothered Kargo President and COO Ryan McConville and Chief Strategy Officer Doug Rohrer, the documents say.

“My peers said they wished I didn’t always have Berger’s back,” said Kargman in his testimony, according to the documents. “That I’m (sic) was too close to her and that’s why they kept things from me; I give her the benefit of the doubt more than I should. Ryan said he was unhappy I was always taking sales’ side.”