At least 58 female employees at the financial news service Bloomberg are filing claims against the company after it was alleged they were sexually discriminated against after becoming pregnant.
The workers claim their pay was cut; they were demoted; or they were denied opportunities at the company, owned by the billionaire Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. Lawyers for the women say they expect more alleged victims to come forward to join the class action which has grown from three complainants when it was first filed in September last year.
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is filing the lawsuit on behalf of the women, has sent questionnaires to 478 women who have taken maternity leave whilst working for the company since 1992. The women's lawyer, Raechel Adams, said the lawsuit was a "global action" and staff at Bloomberg offices around the world were being interviewed.
The firm's UK operations, based in London, faced similar complaints last year when Janine Funsch, 34, sued for sexual discrimination when she returned to work after having a child and the company turned down her request to work part time. She settled out of court for a reported six-figure sum.
Details of the discrimination against working mothers alleged in the latest claims echo Ms. Funsch's case. Some of the women claim they were paid less when they returned from maternity leave, while others even say they were demoted and replaced by younger male employees.
The EEOC first took action last year when Jill Patricot, Tanys Lancaster and Janet Loures filed a lawsuit against Bloomberg in September 2007. Ms Patricot and Ms Loures have continued to work at Bloomberg during the case; Ms Lancaster now works for the rival news agency Thomson Reuters.
Ms Lancaster was earning nearly $300,000 a year in a senior position at the company when she told her bosses she was pregnant. She has alleged that when she returned to work she was demoted and her pay was cut. Ms Patricot claims that when her childcare needs meant that she was unable to work the same hours, she was demoted to an entry-level position. Ms Loures says her responsibilities declined substantially when she returned to work after having two children.
The three women are each seeking at least $48m in damages, demanding that the company pays them for wages already lost and provides compensation for future financial losses.
Another complaint accused one of the firm's senior executives, Alexius Fenwick, of telling another executive to sack two pregnant employees, commenting: "I'm not having any pregnant bitches working for me".
A spokeswoman for Bloomberg said the company had more than 10,000 employees in 126 offices across the world and fewer than 24 employment lawsuits had been filed against it in the US since its foundation in 1981.
The workers said discrimination against women at Bloomberg was fostered by senior executives at the company, including Mr Bloomberg. Although he claims to have given up the daily running of the firm, he still has a majority stake. On the campaign trail for New York Mayor in 2001, he claimed: "I don't think anybody who knows me thinks that I am sexist."