An NASD arbitration panel awarded $70,000 to a bank broker who claimed she was terminated and defamed on her U-5 for complaining about sexual harassment and regulatory problems at her firm.
Donna Brennan worked for Northeast Brokerage Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of First Albany, from December 1994 to August 1995. In her NASD complaint, Brennan alleged that the firm's president, Bruce Heines, urged her to solicit accounts in states where she wasn't properly licensed, while denying her licensing in states she requested. She said she contacted the NASD and state of Maryland officials about the problem.
Northeast fired her, citing "insubordination and low productivity" on her U-5. In her complaint, Brennan described a "locker-room" atmosphere at the firm, in which she was "subjected to a sexually hostile and abusive work environment in terms of vulgar language, sexual remarks, and jokes based upon sexuality and homosexuality." She was the only woman broker in the firm.
In addition, Brennan contended that a male broker hired at the same time as her was not fired despite having lower production. He had not complained about the licensing violations, she said, although was pushed as she had been to do business with accounts in states where he was unregistered.
Brennan said she complained about the work environment and was ignored.
The arbitration panel, in its Aug. 8, 1997, decision, found First Albany, Northeast and Heines all liable for compensatory damages. It also ordered Northeast's U-5 filing to be changed to "permitted to resign," and First Albany to reinstate Brennan's employment to preserve her registrations.
"We presented documentation of trades done without registration after Heines said to arbitrators it couldn't possibly have happened," says Frances Farber-Walter, a Hackensack, N.J., attorney who represented Brennan. "It was clear that Donna was being retaliated against." Evidence of sexual harassment was obvious as well, says Farber-Walter, when arbitrators heard testimony from male brokers in Brennan's office who complained about the locker-room atmosphere.
Brennan now owns a retail store in Piermont, N.Y. The two-year arbitration "stopped my career dead in its tracks," she says. "I lost clients and referrals; I can't afford now to start over." All the award money went toward paying off debts over the two years, Brennan claims.
First Albany closed Northeast and terminated Heines before the arbitration was decided. The firm gave no indication the moves were due to Brennan's complaint or regulatory violations, Brennan says.
First Albany did not return calls for comment.