March 31, 2005, four female financial consultants filed a national class
action lawsuit against Smith Barney, the retail brokerage arm of Citigroup,
charging that the brokerage house discriminates against women in violation
of federal and state civil rights and labor laws.
New York Times, "Sex-Discrimination Lawsuit
Filed Against Smith Barney"
women filed suit against Smith Barney on Thursday,
contending that as employees they were denied business
opportunities because of sex discrimination.
women - one current employee and three former ones
- said that because branch managers did not refer
clients to them, they were unable to build their
business and so were paid less than male colleagues.
also claimed that they received less sales support
than male colleagues, less desirable offices, and
less training. After they complained, they said,
male colleagues retaliated against them.
opportunities for women in Wall Street companies
have sadly lagged behind those of their male counterparts,"
M. Dermody, a lawyer at Lieff Cabraser Heimann
& Bernstein, which is representing the four
said the plaintiffs were seeking to have the suit
certified as a class-action. If successful, thousands
of current and former employees of Smith Barney,
a unit of Citigroup, could be eligible to join the
response to the suit, Kimberly Atwater, a spokeswoman
for Smith Barney, issued a statement saying: "These
claims are entirely without merit and no number
of high-profile press conferences will change that.
We are proud of the strides we have made to become
an employer of choice, committed to giving every
employee the opportunity to achieve his or her full
potential. Significant initiatives in the last several
years have helped establish Smith Barney as one
of the most progressive employers in the securities
industry in providing a professional and respectful
work environment and fair and equal opportunities
lawsuit is the latest charging that a sexist culture
persists within Wall Street firms, and it is not
the first to name Smith Barney. Last summer, Morgan
Stanley agreed to pay $54 million to settle a discrimination
lawsuit filed on behalf of about 340 women who worked
in a division of its investment bank. In 1996, female
employees at Smith Barney filed a discrimination
suit that described fraternity-style hazing and
physical harassment at one of the firm's branches.
That case was settled in 1998.
suit focused on the denial of business opportunities.
The four plaintiffs asserted that branch managers
repeatedly steered clients to male employees. The
more clients brokers have, the bigger their portfolios.
The amount of each plaintiff's compensation was
determined in significant part by the size of the
portfolio managed, Ms. Dermody said.
managers have extraordinary discretion to distribute
these business opportunities as they choose, allowing
their gender stereotypes and the companywide culture
of gender discrimination to influence their decisions,"
said the complaint, which was filed in United States
District Court in San Francisco. "As a result,
Smith Barney's practice is to distribute accounts
and business opportunities to male financial consultants
in numbers greatly disproportionate to those distributed
to similarly situated female financial consultants."
of the women, Renee Fassbender Amochaev, Deborah
Orlando and Kathryn Varner, were financial consultants
in the Santa Rosa, Calif., office of Smith Barney.
The fourth woman, Judy Weil, is currently a financial
consultant in an office in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Fassbender Amochaev said in a telephone interview
earlier this week that she took her concerns first
to her branch manager but that he was not sympathetic.
She next went to Smith Barney's local and regional
human resources executives.
of her complaints got back to her office, she said,
and a group of male colleagues circulated a petition
supporting her branch manager. She corresponded
with the human resources staff for about a year,
she said, and last July she left the firm.
questions were not answered. Nobody ever resolved
any issues. There was zero accountability,"
said Ms. Fassbender Amochaev, who worked at Smith
Barney for about five years and who now works at
Wachovia Securities. "That's why I'm doing
Associated Press, "Lawsuit claims Smith
Barney discriminates against women"
Four female financial consultants sued Citigroup
Inc.'s Smith Barney division on Thursday, accusing
the brokerage firm of systematically denying equal
opportunities to its women employees. The suit,
filed in U.S. District Court, seeks class action
status and asks for an end to gender discrimination
at the firm, back pay and related damages. No dollar
amount was specified, but [Lieff Cabraser] attorney
Dermody said the "potential damages are
significant" because up to 5,000 women could
qualify for the class action.
In particular, the women charged that Smith Barney
distributes accounts and business opportunities
disproportionately to men regardless of qualifications.
The suit also claims that women brokers are rarely
allowed to partner with other brokers, thus depriving
them of a channel for lucrative new business. "Smith
Barney is still making money the old-fashioned way
- by paying women less," said plaintiff Renee
Fassbender Amochaev, 36, who said she was dismissed
from the firm's Santa Rosa, Calif. office after
complaining of discrimination. The other plaintiffs
are Kathryn Varner, a former Smith Barney financial
consultant and vice president in the company's Santa
Rosa office, Judy Weil, a financial consultant in
the company's Walnut Creek office, and Deborah Orlando,
a former Smith Barney financial consultant and vice
president in Santa Rosa.
The lawsuit stems partly from efforts by the National
Council on Women's Organizations - best known for
its efforts to open the all-male Augusta National
golf club to women - to push for changes at Wall
Street firms. That group last year demanded meetings
with brokerage executives who belong to Augusta
and invited contact by women at the firms who felt
they had experienced discrimination.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case filed Thursday
said their clients are trying to change the culture
of Wall Street. While "boom-boom" rooms
may have gone out of style, women still suffer quiet
discrimination, the attorneys said.