February 15, 2002
Morgan Stanley's 'Reluctant' EEOC Complainant
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In a profile of bond seller Allison K. Schieffelin, The New York Times describes her as someone unlikely to bring the wrath of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on her former employer, Morgan Stanley.
A typical Wall Streeter, Schieffelin routinely put in long hours, often flying to the West Coast for dinner with clients, then catching the red-eye back so she could be at her desk in New York by morning. She earned $1 million a year, but the rigors of her job had left her divorced and childless in her late 30's.
Yet Schieffelin was stunned one day in October 2000 when her boss called her into an office, fired her, and had her escorted to the lobby of the headquarters of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in Times Square.
The problem was, Schieffelin had told the federal government that she was trapped under a glass ceiling at Morgan Stanley. In making that complaint, the Times reports, she became perhaps the highest-ranking woman on Wall Street to challenge publicly the industry's pay and promotion practices.
The EEOC agreed with her accusations, and now Schieffelin finds herself squaring off with Morgan Stanley in court. It is a role that she could scarcely have imagined a few years ago, she told the Times in her first lengthy interview since the commission sued Morgan Stanley on Sept. 10.
"You're looking at the most reluctant plaintiff on the planet," she said.
The commission called her dismissal an illegal retaliation for her complaint and contended in the suit that the firm had engaged in a "pattern and practice" of discrimination against female employees of one of its most profitable divisions.
Recent attempts to settle the dispute have failed, according to the newspaper, and lawyers for the commission are preparing for a trial. They are compiling a list of current and former Morgan Stanley employees who have complaints similar to Schieffelin's. No trial date has been set.
Morgan Stanley denies many of Schieffelin's accusations and has vowed to disprove them in court. But the Times notes that if the commission follows through with its intended class action, the first by the commission against a major investment bank, Morgan Stanley will have to explain why so few women have advanced to its senior management ranks.
Schieffelin has alleged that when she was fired in October 2000, there had never been a female managing director in her department, which handles bonds that are convertible into shares of a company's stock.
In fact, in the entire division, known as institutional equities, women held only 3 of about 50 managing director titles, she contends. A lawyer for the firm said those numbers were wrong but declined to provide others.
In interviews with the newspaper that were arranged by the EEOC, women who worked with Schieffelin at Morgan Stanley described a working environment in which men swapped off-color jokes and tales of sexual exploits and treated their female colleagues as inferior, all with impunity.
These women voiced similar complaints to the Times about being paid less than their male peers and being passed over for promotions that went to men they regarded as less qualified.
The women spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing harm to their careers, but they may testify if the case goes to trial. Commission lawyers say the number of plaintiffs in the group could exceed 100.
"There's no doubt in my mind that women were compensated less than men at the same level," said one longtime colleague of Schieffelin's. "A lot of us had these complaints."