I worked with the amazing journalists at Type Investigations, The Intercept and Retro Report to tell the story of the women who fought back after being harassed on Wall Street in the 1990s. Watch the segment from tonight’s PBS Retro Report here.
Women filed a wave of lawsuits and arbitrations against financial firms in the 1990s and early 2000s, disgusted by a culture of rampant sexual harassment and gender discrimination. The biggest cases of that era collectively drew thousands of participants in class actions and led to large settlements including $150 million against Smith Barney and $250 million against Merrill Lynch.
At a time when the long-term consequences of #MeToo on women’s careers is an open questions, I looked at court records, tracked down plaintiffs and spoke with a dozen employment lawyers to see how things had turned out for the women — and how things had turned out for the men who allegedly harassed them. My findings were sobering. You can read my story today for The Intercept here.
On Feb. 26, eight women who had sued Sterling Jewelers, Inc. were ushered into a private hearing room in midtown Manhattan with their lawyers, lawyers for Sterling, and an arbitrator. The door was shut behind them.
Like an increasing number of disputes between employees and employers, this one would be heard in a forum where the public and the press were forbidden.
I asked to attend the late February hearings on this sex discrimination case that could wind up including 44,000 women in 50 states, but the arbitrator declined my request. More important is that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – the agency in charge of enforcing federal civil rights laws – also asked, and also was declined.
Joseph Sellers, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said that the agency was told it could ask for a transcript, although no guarantee was made that it would receive one.
Sterling, based in Akron, Ohio, is parent of 12 jewelry chains in the U.S., including Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers.
The two sides presented their arguments for and against a motion to certify a class of women who’d worked in sales positions at Sterling since 2003. The women at the hearing, who would act as representatives of the class, say that Sterling discriminated against them in its pay and promotion policies.
The case, which I wrote about Saturday in The New York Times, includes examples of some of the worst sexual harassment allegations I’ve ever heard, and that includes the vulgar behavior I wrote about in my book “Tales From the Boom-Boom Room: The Landmark Legal Battles That Exposed Wall Street’s Shocking Culture of Sexual Harassment.”
Sterling says the allegations are “without merit.” Continue reading