Mercer Sued by Hedge Fund Worker Fired After Blasting Trump

Updated on
  • David Magerman says Renaissance co-CEO went on racist rant
  • Policy prohibits employees from publicly criticizing company

Hedge fund mogul Robert Mercer, one of the biggest financial backers of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, was sued by a former employee who claims he was fired for calling Mercer racist and publicly criticizing his support of Trump.

The complaint by David Magerman, a research scientist who worked at Renaissance Technologies LLC for two decades, alleges he was wrongfully fired April 29 after his relationship with Mercer and his family became toxic. For example, Magerman alleges that Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah Mercer, a member of Trump’s transition team, called him “pond scum” at a celebrity poker tournament.

The confrontation "just shows the hostility that the Mercers had toward Mr. Magerman because he dared to challenge their political views," his lawyer, H. Robert Fiebach, said in a phone call on Monday.

Mercer, a major investor in Trump-friendly Breitbart News, advised the president to hire two of the Mercer family’s longtime political advisers, Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway. Mercer’s politics have "tainted" the hedge fund, while internal policies that prohibit "politely" speaking out against the company in public are "unfair and untenable," Magerman said in the complaint, filed May 5 in federal court in Philadelphia.

A spokesman for Renaissance had no immediate comment. Mercer emerged as one of the most influential Republican donors in the 2016 election, giving at least $2 million to Make America Number 1, a political action committee that began backing Trump in July. Rebekah Mercer was named to Trump’s transition team in November.

Wrong Direction

The dispute started on Jan. 16 when Magerman called Mercer and asked to have a conversation about his support of Trump, according to the complaint. During the chat, Mercer said the U.S. had started going in the wrong direction “after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s,” according to the complaint. Mercer also said that black Americans “were doing fine” in the late 1950s and are the “only racist people remaining in the U.S.,” according to the complaint.

“Magerman was stunned by these comments and pushed back,” according to the complaint. Reminded of the racial segregation that existed at the time, Mercer allegedly responded by saying those issues weren’t important.

After the phone call, Magerman complained about Mercer’s comments to Co-Chief Executive Officer Peter Brown, who "expressed disbelief" and urged the two men to speak again, according to the complaint. Magerman agreed and called Mercer back on Feb. 5.

"I hear you’re going around saying I’m a white supremacist," Mercer said, according to the complaint. During the call, Mercer "scoffed" at the idea that segregation was degrading and destructive, Magerman said.

Magerman later criticized Mercer’s support for Trump in a story published in the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 23. Magerman said he had sent an email advising the hedge fund’s general counsel, Carla Porter, and its chief financial officer, Mark Silber, about what he intended to tell the newspaper and was told by Silber that it was permissible under company policy. He was suspended a day later, he said.

Poker Tournament

On April 20, Magerman attended a celebrity poker tournament in New York City, where many Renaissance staffers were present, according to the suit. Magerman told the Wall Street Journal that he attended the event to repair his frayed relationship with the firm, according to an April 28 article.

Rebekah Mercer allegedly confronted Magerman, calling him "pond scum" and saying karma "is a bitch," according to the complaint.

Magerman was fired April 29, according to the suit. Magerman seeks "substantial damages," his lawyer said.

Renaissance’s employee handbook bars workers from disparaging the hedge fund or any of its workers, though such policies are "illegal and unenforceable," according to the complaint.

Magerman said he designed mathematical and statistical algorithms to direct Renaissance’s investment decisions on international financial markets, resulting in billions of dollars in revenue for the hedge fund.

Based in East Setauket, New York, Renaissance was started in 1982 by Jim Simons, a former military code cracker. He stepped away from the business at the end of 2009. Mercer and Brown took over the following year.

Private sector employees are generally not protected from political discrimination, said Robert Young, an employment lawyer with Bowditch & Dewey LLP in Boston. But Magerman may have a claim if he can prove he was retaliated against for complaining about race bias by Mercer.

"That may be the more viable of the two claims because there does seem to be a connection between objecting to those comments and termination,” Young, who isn’t involved in the case, said in a phone call.

The case is Magerman v. Mercer, 17-cv-02083, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).

— With assistance by Katia Porzecanski

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