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An illuminated UBS logo sits outside UBS AG's headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.(bloomberg)
(Bloomberg) -- Christine Carona was a star broker at UBS Group AG. In the Boston office, she managed more than $300 million and was a member of the President’s Council, an elite club for top producers.
So it was headline news in the trade press when Morgan Stanley hired her last year. But another story played out behind the scenes. Carona left UBS because she alleges that the company and her male boss tried to block her career path.
Carona’s complaint, filed in 2017 with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, illustrates the persistence of such accusations among the nation’s more than 600,000 securities brokers. In the 1990s, a famed class-action suit against Smith Barney described a locker room atmosphere in which brokers threatened to take female employees who displeased them to a basement “boom-boom room.”
Since then, gender discrimination has largely shifted from frat-boy behavior to subtler institutional barriers, employment lawyers say. Women still account for only a third of securities brokers, a proportion that has barely budged for decades, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“I was denied the support I needed, required to take responsibility, financially and otherwise, for administrative support issues, and denied the opportunities typically presented successful male financial advisers,” Carona said in her complaint, which she withdrew in May while indicating her intent to file a lawsuit. The dispute is now in arbitration, according to a person familiar with the proceedings who asked not to be identified because they are considered private.
UBS said it will defend itself against what it called baseless allegations. “UBS’s commitment to creating an inclusive, respectful and merit-based workplace is an integral part of the firm’s culture everywhere we do business,” spokesman Peter Stack said in a statement.
Carona’s central claim: the firm favors men in distributing lucrative client accounts, depressing women’s income. Her complaint echoes allegations in earlier class-action lawsuits against Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup Inc. Over the last decade, the companies separately settled those suits, while denying wrongdoing, for a combined sum of roughly $150 million and made reforms, such as giving branch managers less discretion in doling out business. But lawyers say they still hear similar concerns.
“That plays out in various forms where women are not given the same opportunities in the office, or accounts are being taken away and given to other people and they are not getting accounts back,” said Shona Glink, an employment lawyer at Stowell & Friedman.
Carona, the UBS broker who departed for Morgan Stanley, had worked in finance for more than two decades. She developed a specialty in offering financial advice for customers who find themselves with what she calls “sudden wealth” from the sale of a business, a divorce or a death. She also focused on helping families prepare financially for the expenses of children with special needs. She said she oversaw accounts for 500 households, generating almost $2 million in annual commissions and fees.
Now 55, Carona has worked for a variety of securities firms, including Merrill Lynch and Citigroup Global Markets. She has been cited in Forbes magazine’s list of top female U.S. financial advisers.
Carona, who declined to comment, filed her complaint against both UBS and her branch manager, James Ducey. She alleged that Ducey often stereotyped women and belittled the contributions of female brokers. The firm also offered generous perks to male colleagues that included golf outings and sports tickets, Carona said. Not only was she never given such rewards, she claimed, but the company denied money she needed for “team building or client development” that it doled out to male advisers. Ducey declined to comment.
In the state filing, disclosed under a public records request, Carona said UBS had also promised to provide her with at least two assistants to handle her accounts but then reneged. Upset, she turned to Ducey, who refused to help and “snidely responded ‘You’re not so tough anymore,’” she said in her complaint. Later, she maintains she was asked to share temporarily her lone assistant with a male adviser.
When brokers retired or left the firm, their valuable accounts would mostly be distributed to male financial advisers, according to her account to the state. In May 2015, Carona said, a financial adviser with about 50 accounts holding $300 million of investments, left the company. The departing broker told Carona he expected that she would win most of that business, but none came her way, she said.
When she complained to Ducey, he responded that another male financial adviser was also left out, suggesting that gender bias wasn’t at play, according to her complaint. Carona said she then brought her concerns to human resources, and her assistant agreed she wasn’t treated as well as male brokers. The response, by her account: “What would you like us to do: take accounts away from other advisers?”
After her meeting, Carona said she noticed a decline in the quality and number of assistants assigned to her team compared with male brokers. By July 2017, Carona said she considered the situation hopeless and quit UBS to join Morgan Stanley’s Boston office. She then accused UBS of trying to retain her customers by disparaging her and attacking her integrity.
“I don’t comment on pending litigation,” said Dan Rabinovitz, her attorney. “However, I can tell you that Ms. Carona intends to litigate this matter to conclusion in the appropriate venue, to stand up for the way she was treated.”
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