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Susan Antilla is an award-winning investigative journalist who has been a financial columnist at The New York Times, Bloomberg, TheStreet and USA Today.  She is author of the #MeToo book on sexual harassment on Wall Street: Tales From the Boom-Boom Room: The Landmark Legal Battles That Exposed Wall Street’s Shocking Culture of Sexual Harassment. The New York Observer called the book “a work of compelling Wall Street anthropology.”

You can get in touch with her through her Twitter feed
or by email at Susan.Antilla15@gmail.com

Ozy’s problems no shocker to employees who blasted the company on Glassdoor

Just days after The New York Times exposed stunning business practices at the online journalism outfit Ozy, the company said Friday it was shutting its doors. That no doubt came as no surprise to some of its employees, who since 2015 have been excoriating the firm on the jobs website Glassdoor, citing its “toxic” culture, “bipolar management style” and conflicts of interest.

For years, I’ve used Glassdoor to get a reading on the culture at companies I’m writing about. Employees submit reviews of their employers anonymously, but when multiple employees write about similar problems, it raises red flags that I follow up on.

I’ve combed through a lot of awful Glassdoor reviews of awful companies. But I’ve rarely seen the level of employee condemnation aimed at Ozy.

There are positive reviews, too, of course. But the criticisms are serious and paint a picture of a risky culture.  Here’s a chronological sampling of anonymous comments:

– In 2015, employees posted reviews that asserted that reporters didn’t do any reporting and that employees who stuck with Ozy might be subject to “Stockholm Syndrome.”

– Still another in 2015 laid out a summary that presaged the Ozy we learned so much about this week: The writer described one of the co-founders as a “bipolar” person who “throws tantrums” adding that bills are not paid on time. “This company is not going to succeed,” the person wrote.

– Two years after that, an employee said management was “sick and abusive” and that journalism ethics didn’t exist in the newsroom. Another wrote that “the Ozy experiment is doomed to fail” and said the company had “inflated numbers and website analytics.” Another take on Ozy: that the company was engaged in a “smoke and mirrors game of faux success.”

– Questions persisted in 2018. “I feel like something is going on, but management isn’t talking about it,” one person wrote. “Be transparent – how are you really making money?” That year, other employees questioned Ozy’s performance statistics, its “culture of playing loosey goosey with the rules,” its “lack of transparency” about finances and its “culture of making bold outlandish claims” with no evidence to back them up.

– There is more. Last year, an employee called co-founder Carlos Watson “a bully” who set a tone for overpromising and underdelivering. By this year, another worker was saying that the people running Ozy were “reckless” and that management shifted expectations based Watson’s mood. Ozy, wrote another employee in June, “is not a real business.” Four months after that posting on June 7, the company closed.

The Dangers of Working While Black on Wall Street

Wall Street firms have been rushing to making commitments to racial justice since the death of George Floyd, but how do the same firms behave when a Black employee comes forward to complain about racism? The answer is discouraging. Black people who complain have been ostracized, harassed, threatened and fired after speaking up. And when they have their cases heard in Wall Street’s private arbitration forum, they lose almost all of the time. I wrote about these issues in an article for The Nation, published today.

You can read it here.

25 Years After the ‘Boom Boom Room’ Lawsuit, Wall Street Still Has a Long Way to Go

Twenty-five years ago this month, three women at a Long Island branch of financial industry giant Smith Barney filed an explosive class-action sexual harassment lawsuit. Their complaint described a branch office where it was acceptable for men to refer to their female colleagues as “b*tches” and “c*nts”, where the boss bellowed to the troops at an office Christmas party that the branch was “the biggest whorehouse in Garden City” and where male brokers would assemble in a basement party room dubbed “the Boom Boom Room” to drink, party and engage in vulgar talk.

That suit wound up including 22,000 women by the time it settled, and women at other brokerage firms started speaking up, too, adding up to a public relations nightmare for the brokerage industry.

A quarter-century later, there is change, but women are still struggling. I wrote about it in an opinion piece today for CNN. You can read it here.

Arbitration Storm at DoorDash

In today’s forced arbitration world, plaintiffs’ lawyers can’t make any money on a $500 rip-off complaint from a single consumer or a one-off $1,000 wage and hour claim. Banning access to the courts for individual matters — while barring group claims even in arbitration — is a near-guarantee that sleazy operators won’t be held accountable.

Until now. Lawyers whose cases hit a dead-end when companies began banning class actions are using advertising, social media, and word-of-mouth among employees to track down plaintiffs and file mass arbitrations. That means that, these days, exploited employees with very similar cases can turn the arbitration game against employers. I wrote about one such case against the food delivery service DoorDash for The American Prospect. You can read it here.

 

Insurers grow wary of ‘high-risk’ executives in wake of #MeToo movement

A number of companies that sell liability insurance to cover sexual harassment are demanding higher deductibles or restricting coverage for businesses in high-risk industries such as entertainment, a new survey shows. I wrote about it today for CNBC.com.

A year ago, insurers were getting concerned about the risks they were taking on when they wrote these policies, but their anxiety has risen over the past year. This is the story I wrote about the 2018 survey for theintercept.com.

Sexual Misconduct at Work, Again — Antilla on PBS

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.

Stark Lessons from Wall Street’s #MeToo Moment

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.

Overstock CEO resigns: Thought I’d never see the day.

Patrick Byrne, CEO of the online retailer Overstock, resigned today. The story behind it is too bizarre and convoluted to rehash, but this New York Times’ version will give you a good overview of recent events. Over the years,Byrne and his social media sidekick Judd Bagley staged vicious attacks on the reporters who didn’t buy their conspiracy theories. They were effective enough that a star of financial journalism once told me it wasn’t worth writing about Byrne because of all the grief he put reporters through.

The amazing thing is that a guy like Byrne would last so long running a public company while ranting about “Sith Lords,” nefarious short sellers and shifty operators in the Deep State. Check out this story that I wrote about the company 12 years ago. (And yes, this set me up as a Byrne/Bagley target). Continue reading

Wall Street Goes Silent on #MeToo

A woman who is sexually harassed at work is six and a half times more likely to change jobs than a woman who is not. So you might think that, a year and a half into the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment would be a front-burner issue for the people paid to diversity Wall Street.

Yet at a two-day conference of diversity experts in the securities industry in New York in late May, not one of the seven panels addressed the challenge of sexual harassment in the workplace. I wrote about it in my latest piece for The Intercept. You can read it here.

Sabew honorable mention for investigative reporting

I was honored to hear today that The Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, known as Sabew, awarded me an honorable mention in its “Best in Business” competition in the investigative reporting category. My story, “Finra’s Black Hole,” looked at 30 years of brokerage industry arbitration records to see how women fared when they filed complaints about sexual harassment and gender discrimination. (Answer: Not very well). You can read my story here.

Entire Industries Are Being Blacklisted By Insurers Over #MeToo Liability

#MeToo is getting expensive for the insurance companies who issue policies to errant companies. I wrote about it today in this piece for The Intercept.