The headline-grabbing sex-harassment charges against Wall Street firms in the 1990s are a thing of the past, but not necessarily because things are better for women at financial firms.
In my story today for The New York Times, I discuss the progress — and lack of progress — since “The Boom-Boom Room” lawsuit against Smith Barney became synonymous with lurid behavior at brokerage firms.
Fast-forward 17 years, and such landmark cases are not as prevalent. Wall Street’s women are more aware of their rights and are not so timid anymore, says Linda D. Friedman, a partner at Stowell & Friedman. Still, she says her firm does a lot of work these days behind the scenes, assisting women who face discrimination but are reluctant to pursue litigation because of the repercussions it would have on their careers.
You may not be reading about these problems in your favorite newspaper or blog, but they’re still part of life for women who work in finance. You can read my story here.
A San Francisco Superior Court judge said this afternoon that he didn’t buy arguments by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers that a sex discrimination case against it should be heard in private arbitration. The venture capital firm was sued in May by Ellen Pao, who said she was pressured into sex by a junior partner and then retaliated against when she complained.
Judge Harold Kahn had already told Kleiner that he wasn’t persuaded by its argument that Pao had no legal right to be in open court, but gave the firm a chance to file a revised motion. Today, Kahn told Kleiner “I thought your papers were terrific,” adding, “and I disagree with all of them.”
Here’s a story by the Mercury News about the action in court today.
I wrote about the Pao case in my Bloomberg column last month; Pao had said in her complaint that the top guys at Kleiner didn’t invite women to power dinners with big clients because women would “kill the buzz.” Kleiner denied her allegations.
Kleiner said today that it will appeal the judge’s decision. Companies fight hard to keep sex discrimination and other cases out of the public eye, and nothing serves that goal better than forcing cases into private arbitration. Here’s a story I wrote describing how the public has suffered from 25 years of business forcing litigants into closed-door arbitration hearings.
Here’s a great example of how hard a company will work to keep its dirty laundry out of the public eye. Ellen Pao, a junior partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, sued the firm for sex discrimination in May. Kleiner filed its response yesterday, denying Pao’s allegations. Along with its denials, Kleiner also said that Pao shouldn’t be in court at all — she signed documents agreeing to arbitration in the event of a dispute, according to Kleiner. If the firm prevails on that, there will be no public record of the dispute after these initial filings.
And it gets worse, according to the Mercury News, which has reported on documents that aren’t yet available on the San Francisco Superior Court website. Not only does Kleiner say that Pao’s case doesn’t belong in court. It also says that the documents that support that argument should be kept under wraps.
Take a look at my Bloomberg column marking the recent 25th anniversary of an important Supreme Court decision that let brokerage firms force customers to use industry-run arbitration instead of court. It’s only gotten worse for investors, consumers, and employees since that June 8, 1987 decision. It’s too early to make a judgment on either side’s arguments in Pao v Kleiner. But the push to keep things quiet is part of a long, worrisome trend.
I’m always happy to hear from readers. To get in touch with me about my articles, email me at susan.antilla15@gmail. com, or, if you’d prefer, send me a message @antillaview.
It’s happy 25th anniversary to somebody today, but not to you if you’re an investor, a consumer, or an employee who toils outside of the executive suite. On June 8, 1987, the Supreme Court said it was OK for brokerage firms to require customers to give up their rights to court in the event that a broker ripped them off. Instead of open court with public records and annoying reporters who could chronicle the sordid details of abuse of the little guy, investors since then have been stuck in “mandatory arbitration” that’s run by — guess who? — the brokerage industry. Continue reading →
Sex discrimination isn’t the iPad, folks. It’s more like the electric typewriter.
When you see the words “tech” or “venture capital,” you think of brilliant geeks coming up with cool new stuff you’d never heard of before, right? Well tech types are in the 1980s when it comes to sex discrimination cases. Ellen Pao, who sued the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers last month, is claiming that the guys she worked with excluded her from meetings and held fancy dinners with big clients and left the women out. One of her partners said it would “kill the buzz” to have women at one power dinner, according to her suit. We didn’t fix that leaving-the-girls-out thing a couple decades ago?
Kleiner has said the suit is “without merit,” and its star general partner, John Doerr, said in a letter posted on the firm’s website on May 30 that it all amounted to “false allegations against his firm, which boasts “the most” women of any leading venture capital firm. As luck would have it, Kleiner’s woman numbers rose by one the next day, when the firm announced a new partner to focus on investments in consumer internet business, Megan Quinn, would begin in late June.
We’ll see if Pao can even get to court. Kleiner spokeswoman Amanda Duckworth told me in an email that the firm believes Pao’s claims “are covered by an arbitration agreement.” Alan Exelrod, Pao’s lawyer, declined to comment when I asked him if she’d signed anything obligating her to arbitration. Kleiner hasn’t filed any request to have the complaint kicked out of court, but companies in employment disputes usually love the idea of getting a case out of the public eye. Here’s my Bloomberg column on the Pao case and its striking resemblance to lawsuits 20 years past. Read article
Buying a Starbucks gift card? You are agreeing to mandatory arbitration of any fraud or misrepresentation by the company.
American business entered its Teflon era on a spring day 25 years ago.
Lawyer Madelaine Eppenstein had taken the morning off from work for a parent-teacher event at her 5-year-old’s elementary school on June 8, 1987, when she was summoned to the principal’s office for an urgent call. Her husband and law partner, Theodore Eppenstein, told her they lost the Supreme Court case he had argued two months before on behalf of a couple trying to sue their stockbroker for fraud. [...] Read Article