2016 Marks the 20th Anniversary of a Groundbreaking Wall Street Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Women have made tremendous progress in the past four or five decades in the workplace, overcoming obstacles that had been in place for centuries, if not longer. Many hurdles remain, though, and some workplaces present far greater challenges than others. Wall Street is still, in many ways, a “boys’ club,” where women might not be expressly excluded but are also not always welcomed by the office culture. Twenty years ago, a group of women at a Wall Street financial company filed a lawsuit alleging sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. Martens v. Smith Barney, Inc., No. 96-cv-03779, complaint (S.D.N.Y., May 20, 1996). The number of claimants grew to almost two thousand, and the defendant eventually paid out $150 million. The lawsuit brought some reforms to Wall Street’s culture, but sex discrimination in many forms remains a problem.

Sex discrimination in the workplace is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2; the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), N.Y. Exec. L. § 296; and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107. The U.S. Supreme Court established sexual harassment as a form of unlawful sex discrimination in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986). Subsequent cases have established the right to bring sexual harassment claims as a collective or class action. See, e.g. Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., 130 F.3d 1287, 1304 (8th Cir. 1997) (“It should be obvious that the callous pattern and practice of sexual harassment…inevitably destroyed the self-esteem of the working women exposed to it.”)

The initial group of women who filed suit in Martens alleged multiple forms of sex discrimination that “transcend[ed] all aspects of employment.” Martens, complaint at 5. This included an applicant pool for brokers that favored men and “deliberately steer[ed] female applicants into the position of sales assistant,” which featured “duties…stereotypically assigned to women.” Id. at 6.

The complaint further described a “‘locker room’ environment [that] attracts prospective male employees who have a propensity to engage in sexual harassment.” Id. at 7. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendant knew one male employee to be “a discriminator and harasser” for 25 years but took no action against him. Id. at 7-8. This employee, they alleged, was responsible for creating the basement room in the defendant’s Garden City Branch Office known as the “Boom Boom Room.” Id. at 10.

A judge approved a settlement in July 1998 that covered the claims of about 22,000 female employees. The lawsuit led to some positive changes among Wall Street companies, but Wall Street employees continue to allege sexual harassment by supervisors, managers, and co-workers. Claims of sex discrimination in hiring, salary, and promotions are still frequently seen in New York City courtrooms. One recent lawsuit, for example, alleges discrimination on the basis of sex, race, and national origin, as well as retaliation, against a Wall Street bank. Chan v. Bank of America Corp., Inc., et al., No. 1:16-cv-03057, am. complaint (S.D.N.Y., Apr. 29, 2016).

Phillips & Associates’ skilled and experienced gender discrimination attorneys fight for the rights of employees, former employees, and job seekers in New York City, helping them assert claims for unlawful employment practices like sexual harassment. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case with a member of our team, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Sexual Harassment Scandal Raises Possibility of Reform, New York Employment Attorney Blog, September 30, 2016

Sexual Harassment Extends Beyond Employees and Co-Workers, Affects “Virtual Assistants”, New York Employment Attorney Blog, September 20, 2016

New York Court Rules that Firing a Woman for Being Too Attractive Is Not Sex Discrimination Under State or City Law, New York Employment Attorney Blog, August 10, 2016

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