Former Employee of New York City Finance Firm Files Appeal in Sexual Harassment, Retaliation Case

For decades, if not longer, Wall Street has had a reputation as a place dominated by men, where women must tolerate embarrassing or degrading treatment in order to succeed in their careers. When the #MeToo movement began several years ago, there were doubts about whether it would be able to affect Wall Street, particularly those firms whose cultures draw comparisons to unsupervised college fraternities. The tenacity of New York City sexual harassment attorneys has brought some relief to Wall Street employees of all genders who have experienced hostile work environments. One of the first prominent sexual harassment lawsuits on Wall Street in the past few years resulted, unfortunately, in the dismissal of several of the plaintiff’s claims. The plaintiff has filed an appeal challenging the dismissal in state appellate court.

Under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), sexual harassment constitutes discrimination on the basis of gender when a supervisor, manager, or other person in a position of authority makes sexual activity a condition of employment. This is known as quid pro quo sexual harassment. The “sexual activity” could involve anything from exchanging lurid emails or text messages to actual sexual contact. A key element of this type of claim is that the employee or job applicant believes that they are not in a position to decline the advances, out of concern for their job.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit mentioned above worked for a Wall Street hedge fund as a managing director and portfolio manager. She alleged in her complaint that her direct supervisor “repeatedly coerced her into sex,” with an implied threat to withhold resources that she needed for her job if she declined his advances. Most of these advances, the plaintiff claimed, occurred at “breakfast meetings” arranged by the supervisor “where his attire usually consisted of his white terry bathrobe.”

She alleges that, after she began to refuse to attend these meetings, the supervisor’s “attitude toward her then changed,” and she lost all support for the portfolio she managed. The supervisor allegedly started pressuring the plaintiff “to agree to a voluntary and quiet exit from” the firm. The plaintiff filed a complaint about the supervisor with the firm’s human resources officer. She was fired nine days later. She claims that this was in retaliation for the complaint.

The lawsuit, filed in January 2018, asserted five causes of action: retaliation, gender discrimination, and aiding and abetting under the NYCHRL; breach of contract; and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. It named the firm, its CEO, and the plaintiff’s supervisor as defendants.

In June 2020, a judge granted the supervisor’s summary judgment motion as to the retaliation, aiding and abetting, and breach of implied covenant claims. The court found that the defendants had “establish[ed] that there is no causal connection between the termination and plaintiff’s HR Complaint.” It also found that the supervisor was not directly involved in the decision to fire her. The plaintiff filed an appeal with the Appellate Division in December 2020. Her gender discrimination and breach of contract claims are still pending in the lower court.

The employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates fight for the rights of New York City employees, former employees, and job seekers in sexual harassment claims under city, state, and federal law. Please contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our skilled and knowledgeable team.

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