BofA Called ‘Bro’s Club’ in Female Director’s Bias Suit

  • Woman says male counterpart’s bonus was more than 3 times hers
  • Bank says it takes such claims seriously, will investigate

Bank of America Corp. was sued by a managing director who says that beneath the “veneer of a world-class financial institution,” the company treats women in her position like “second-class citizens” and pays them substantially less than their male counterparts.

Megan Messina, 42, went further in a federal lawsuit that was the talk of Wall Street. After detailing the compensation of a dozen colleagues, she accused the bank of front-running, lying to customers and manipulating prices. When Messina complained about the “unlawful, unethical and improper practices,” she claimed she was placed on forced leave and barred from returning to her office.

“Messina is being treated as if she is a criminal and has done something wrong,” according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Manhattan.

The suit is only the latest to claim bias on Wall Street, where Citigroup Inc. and Morgan Stanley agreed to multimillion-dollar settlements in the last decade. In a 42-page complaint that seeks damages for “mental anguish” and “loss of dignity,” Messina advances uncomfortable but familiar allegations about a male-dominated industry that’s come under sharp scrutiny for its treatment of women.

“We take all allegations of inappropriate behavior seriously and investigate them thoroughly,” Bill Halldin, a spokesman for Bank of America, said Tuesday.

Managing Director

Messina, who’s been with the bank since 2007 and made managing director in 2011, spells out a host of alleged wrongs in a suit filed just weeks after she says she was locked out of the bank.

From the moment Messina was promoted, her male supervisor “made it clear that she was not welcome within his subordinate ‘bro’s club’ of all-male sycophants,” she said. Throughout 2015, her supervisor consistently excluded her from e-mails, meetings, dinners and get-togethers with the 10 men he oversaw, she said.

Messina, whose career also includes stints at Paine Webber and Salomon Smith Barney, said prior to becoming managing director, she had consistently received “stellar" performance reviews about her skills, talent and ability to enhance the bank’s profitability.

Only Woman

“As the only woman in a sea of men,” Messina “never stood a chance to be included and therefore never stood a chance to succeed,” she said. Her supervisor, in their first conversation after her promotion, told her, “I don’t understand what you do,” according to her complaint.

Messina said she attempted to impress upon her male superiors that she was “significantly qualified” and knowledgeable about her sector and had an extensive number of contacts which could help her bring value to the bank. 

Messina’s bonus for 2015 was $1.55 million while a male colleague with the same title got $5.5 million, “an astonishing difference” for work “requiring equal skill, effort and responsibility,” she said. A single mother of three children, she seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and wants an order barring the bank from discriminating and retaliating against her.

Messina accused her colleagues of engaging in numerous improper practices, including front-running client trades and doctoring records. She also said colleagues misled Pacific Investment Management Co. and sought to buy a bond from another client knowing it was about to be called. Michael Reid, a Pimco spokesman, declined to comment on the allegations.

Similar Activities

“We dispute the allegations in this complaint regarding the Pimco transaction in 2015,” Halldin said.

For at least two years, federal prosecutors in North Carolina have been investigating whether traders at the bank engaged in front-running, or trading ahead of client orders, according to a person familiar with the matter. Messina described some similar activities that allegedly occurred more recently. Halldin declined to comment on the investigation.

Messina said she was retaliated against when she complained to her supervisors and called herself a whistle-blower. She said she was suspended after complaining about wrongdoing and that her complaints were “blown off, ignored and disregarded by BofA’s senior management, compliance and legal divisions.”

Bias Cases

Wall Street has long been subject to allegations of bias. Citigroup in 2008 agreed to pay $33 million to settle a bias suit brought by female brokers at its Smith Barney unit after the women alleged that the company continued to discriminate against women workers after a 1997 sexual-harassment settlement. 

Morgan Stanley in 2007 agreed to set up a $46 million claims pool to settle a bias suit brought by former financial advisers who said the firm discriminated against them and more than 3,000 current and former advisers by paying them less than their male counterparts and giving them fewer promotion opportunities. That accord also increased earnings for female advisers by at least $16 million over five years, the New York-based firm said. 

In 2005, a New York jury ordered UBS AG to pay $29.3 million to a former saleswoman in a sex discrimination case that was subsequently settled. Laura Zubulake said her boss at the Zurich-based bank belittled her in front of colleagues and denied her important accounts.

The case is Messina v. Bank of America Corp., 16-cv-03653, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

(An earlier version of this story corrected the spelling of Salomon Smith Barney.)

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