Two financial advisors who claimed they were wrongfully terminated by USAA Financial Advisors in 2017 were awarded $1.8 million in FINRA arbitration last week.
Christopher Johnson and Lee Przybyla, who were registered with USAA for six and seven years, respectively, prior to their termination, filed a Statement of Claim against the brokerage in December 2017 along with five other advisors who had been fired in the same period. (On each of their BrokerCheck reports, USAA cited “improperly sought compensation credit to which he was not entitled” as a reason for termination.)
According to Johnson and Przybyla, USAA disclosed “inaccurate” information about the details of their termination on their Central Registration Depository Form U-5s. Johnson is now registered with 1st Global.
“No amount of money can compensate the claimants for what they went through, but our hope is the award will help them move on and restart their careers and send a clear and loud message to USAA that it cannot treat its employees in this manner," said George C. Miller, an attorney at Shustak Reynolds & Partners, who is representing all seven advisors.
In the FINRA claim, Johnson and Przybyla asserted they were wrongly terminated “for practices related to the preparation and publishing of financial plans” and argued they were “high performing, highly compensated financial advisors” for USAA. In February 2018, USAA requested the seven advisors’ claims be treated as separate arbitrations; FINRA eventually allowed Przybyla's and Johnson’s claims to proceed immediately. The remaining arbitration hearings are scheduled for later this year and next year.
The award includes $850,000 in compensatory damages, $700,000 in punitive damages and $250,000 in attorneys’ fees. Additionally, FINRA recommended that the advisors' Form U-5s be changed to say that their departure was ‘voluntary.’
USAA did not immediately return a request for comment.