Less than 10 years after they settled the infamous “boom-boom room” case, Smith Barney is being sued for discrimination again.
The new case, Fassbender Amochaev v. Citigroup Global Markets, Inc., d/b/a Smith Barney, was filed in United States District Court of Northern California in San Francisco by one current and three former employees more than a year ago on March 31, 2005. Attorneys for the plaintiffs filed a brief with the court seeking class certification on Oct. 27, and Smith Barney is scheduled to respond by Dec. 8.
The lawsuit says Smith Barney engaged in a pattern and practice of gender discrimination against its female financial consultants in account distributions, sales support and compensation, among other things. Smith Barney accepted no culpability in the boom-boom case, but the 1998 settlement cost the firm millions of dollars and opened the door to improved sexual harassment and diversity policies.
The four plaintiffs, Renee Fassbender Amochaev, Deborah Orlando, Kathryn Varner and current employee Judy Weil, specifically charge that Smith Barney branch managers, who have “extraordinary discretion to distribute business opportunities as they choose,” according to the filing, allocated a disproportionate share of account distributions and other benefits to male financial advisors, impairing female advisors' ability to build a business.
Smith Barney disagrees. “The firm believes these claims are entirely without merit, and will continue to vigorously defend this position,” said Susan Thomson, a managing director of corporate communications at Citigroup. “Significant initiatives in the last several years have helped establish Smith Barney as one of the most progressive employers in the securities industry.”
Thomson said the complaints lodged by the women in the lawsuit have nothing to do with their gender. “The issues being raised by this suit are relevant to all financial advisors regardless of gender — all financial advisors are interested in more account reassignments, a better office, the best parking space,” she said.
But Elizabeth Alexander, a partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann and Bernstein, one of the firms representing the claimants, says the results of the alleged gender discrimination are tangible. “It is unfortunate that in 2006, Smith Barney continues to favor male brokers with respect to compensation and business opportunities over their female colleagues who are equally or more qualified,” she said.