Two new lawsuits allege that a former HSBC senior vice president, Eileen Hedges, repeatedly sexually harassed her 27-year-old female subordinate, who the complaints refer to as Jane Doe.
According to Michael Picarella, a current employee previously supervised by Hedges who was one of those to file the complaint, Hedges pressured Doe to have sex with a senior HSBC executive at its Mexico office. The other former employee, James Rist, who says he dated Doe and witnessed some of the harassment, says that executive inappropriately touched Doe multiple times at a conference in Florida. At the same conference, Rist alleges, another HSBC managing director told Doe he would like “to bend her over, pull her pants down, and spread her cheeks” in front of others.
Both also claim that Hedges once tried to pull Doe’s blouse down and expose her breasts in front of male coworkers. Hedges also allegedly encouraged her to dress provocatively, and Picarella says she spread false rumors that Doe had sex with clients when they traveled outside of the country and told Doe about her own extramarital affairs with HSBC executives.
The two complaints from Picarella and Rist claim they and Doe were retaliated against for reporting the harassment she suffered. They say HSBC fired Doe in 2012 for complaining about Hedges and to prevent her from bringing the complaints of harassment to bank officials. Picarella also says he was demoted after reporting Hedges to officials, and Rist says his annual bonus was cut by more than 60 percent. Another, unrelated complaint was filed on Tuesday alleging that the bank fired a junior analyst who complained about unwanted sexual advances from a coworker.
In a September 2012 court filing, the bank says it fired Hedges after an investigation but denied the charges of retaliation. It declined to comment on the suits.
Sexual harassment is a widespread problem across many industries: one in five women report being harassed by a superior while one in four say they have been harassed by a coworker. There were over 11,000 sexual harassment charges filed in 2011, although that’s an undercount given that 70 percent of those who experienced harassment say they didn’t report it.
But multiple complaints have emerged specifically from the finance industry. A female former Goldman Sachs employee has accused the company of ignoring her complaint that a colleague sexually assaulted her and marginalized her after her report. She and another female former employee filed a lawsuit against the company that accused it of creating a “boy’s club” atmosphere with company outings to strip clubs and escorts hired for company parties. They also say female employees were “sexualized or ignored” and are seeking to turn their complaint into a class-action lawsuit. Women at Merrill Lynch filed a complaint against the company claiming that they were made to read the book “Seducing the Boys Club: Uncensored Tactics From a Woman at the Top” and follow its advice.
Beyond harassment, women in finance report other forms of discrimination. The Goldman Sachs lawsuit also claims that women at the firm made significantly less than men and were promoted less often. Last year, Bank of America settled a lawsuit from about 4,800 women who alleged that their pay and advancement were undermined by the company giving men the most lucrative clients. Pay disparities are common in the industry, as six of the jobs with the biggest gender wage gaps are in finance.
Part of the problem in finance may be that there are just so few women. They are just 35 percent of those in investment banking and securities trading and make up less than a quarter of senior officers and less than 18 percent of executive officers in finance and insurance.