When an executive takes a notion to fluff up the corporate cushions, they often end up doing a complete make-over of the offices.
They look over the reports prepared by the accounting department and realize that they have to make changes if they are to keep their plush office and all the power that they've accrued. Failure typically results in an exit, and in an era of high unemployment, who wouldn't want to keep their job?
At Penguin, as at every other major publisher, sales are declining and there hasn't been a major breakout literary star for ages.
Enter Susan Kennedy.
As President of Penguin Publishing Group, she developed a strategy to freshen up her team. In her mind, that meant bringing in young people who were not entrenched and who did not have tight relationships with old literary agents delivering the same old manuscripts.
Marilyn Ducksworth had to go. After 28 years with Penguin, in spite of her previous successes, Ms. Ducksworth was marginalized until she couldn't take it anymore and she left.
Her team was dismantled, her authority diminished. It was made clear that she was not wanted, and if she stayed, she would be moved down the corporate ladder and possibly find herself in a dark corner of the basement, filing reports.
If she were the only one, it might have been a successful strategy that Penguin employed to get rid of an old employee and make it look as if that employee left of their own accord.
Ms. Ducksworth filed a lawsuit charging age discrimination, and she has backed up her assertion with examples of fellow executives, all of them well beyond the age of forty, who were also shown the door or diminished into submission.
Ms. Kennedy may have felt that the impending arrival of Coram Williams as new CEO of Penguin Group spelled her own demise if she didn't redecorate and make the place look better than what it was. She sought to revamp Ms. Ducksworth's department by cleaning house, but it just happens to be against the law to fire someone because they are old and outdated.
The old folks, however, will still be gone from Penguin and Ms. Kennedy will be free to install her new employees, to do what she set out to do in the first place. The lawsuit and its costs will be nothing more than the price of doing business.