Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg

Bank of America Denies Existence of Alleged ‘Bro’s Club’

  • Managing director sued bank in May over gender-bias claims
  • Bank says woman didn’t raise complaint until she hired lawyer

Bank of America Corp. said a managing director who accused the bank of being a "bro’s club" and filed a gender-bias lawsuit only came up with the inflammatory term after meeting with her lawyers.

Megan Messina, 42, who’s been with Bank of America since 2007 and was made managing director in 2011, sued the company in May, saying she was paid substantially less than her male counterparts and that women were treated like second-class citizens. It’s the latest such claim on Wall Street, where several major financial institutions have agreed to multimillion-dollar settlements in the past decade.

In an answer to the suit filed late Friday, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank rejected most of the allegations without further comment. However, it specifically denied the existence of a bro’s club, saying the term was never used by her supervisor or other managers and was invented by Messina and her lawyers.

The bank said Messina didn’t raise her concerns when she met with a senior executive and a human-resources representative and instead focused on dissatisfaction with her supervisor’s management style.

Despite the fact that the meetings were informal, the senior executive was sensitive to her concerns and sought input from the human resources department, according to the response. The bank also said it engaged with Messina and senior management on the next steps in responding to her criticism of her boss’s management style.

Not Welcome

According to Messina’s suit, her male supervisor made it clear she wasn’t welcome in his bro’s club and consistently excluded her from e-mails, meetings, dinners and get-togethers with the 10 men he oversaw.

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 in her suit. The single mother of three children is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and an order barring the bank from discriminating and retaliating against her.

Messina also accused the bank of front-running - or trading ahead of client orders - lying to customers and manipulating prices. When Messina complained about the “unlawful, unethical and improper practices,” she claimed in the lawsuit that she was placed on forced leave and barred from returning to her office.

Probe Begun

Messina first brought up compliance violations in her lawsuit, at which time the bank immediately began an investigation, according to the court filing. Bank of America said it immediately began a probe of the allegations. Messina was placed on paid leave after she expressed interest in exploring other opportunities, saying she was "stressed," "adversely affected by the demands of performing her job responsibilities" and had "nothing left," according to the bank’s response.

Bank of America also denied Messina’s allegation that she called out her co-head of Global Structured Credit Products for front-running when he decided to buy bonds for the bank’s own trading book rather than sourcing them and selling them to a customer. It said that conversation never took place and the transaction never happened.

For at least two years, federal prosecutors in North Carolina have been investigating whether traders at the bank engaged in front-running, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News in May. Messina described similar activities that allegedly occurred more recently.

Citigroup Settlement

Wall Street has long been subject to allegations of bias. Citigroup in 2008 agreed to pay $33 million to settle a 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 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.

And 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., 1:16-cv-03653, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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BAC US (Bank of America Corp.)

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