Are Wall Street women disappearing because of legitimate layoffs, or are they specifically targeted because they're outside the old boys' network, took maternity leave, pumped breast milk in the office, and complained about co-workers having sex in the workplace?
Four former Citigroup managers are the latest women to file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but Forbes has interviewed women at three other investment banks who say companies are using the recession as an excuse to discriminate. "[S]imilar claims by women who insist they were unfairly fired have been piling up recently at Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, and Bank of Tokyo," writes the magazine's Anita Raghavan.
If the claims have any merit, the mostly male club that gave rise to explosive sex discrimination lawsuits a dozen years ago against Citigroup's Smith Barney brokerage unit is back at work. This time the offenses are not the boorish behavior and outright harassment that gave rise to a total $400 million in industry settlements but something more subtle: making women bear a disproportionate share of the layoffs.
Forbes estimates 72 percent of workers laid off from financial services and insurance firms are women, and that women made up 64 percent of overall industry employment before the crash.
In the Citi case, the company had 46 male directors and five female directors in its Public Finance Department. The company laid off four of the women and five of the men. Three of the four women have asked the EEOC for permission to sue as class representatives. Says Lisa Conley, a former Director in the Health Care Group: "By basing its decision on personal relationships rather than performance, Citi has effectively eliminated a whole generation of future Managing Directors within the Public Finance Department."
Citi Spokesperson Danielle Romero-Apsilos counters the company didn't discriminate when it made the layoffs, and that "(m)any of the factual allegations from these former employees are either inaccurate or incomplete..." She says, "Citigroup and the Municipal Securities Division are disciplined, focused, consistent and vigilant in regard to our diversity-related efforts and we are proud of these efforts and of the progress we have made."