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Gender discrimination nothing new to Wall Street firms

By Maxine Shapiro, KERA 90.1 business commentator

Dallas, TX – There is nothing more insidious and damaging than sexual harassment in the workplace. And as long as Wall Street continues to deny its existence by looking the other way, brave, competent women will have to put their legal foot down. I'm Maxine Shapiro with KERA Marketplace Midday.

Trust me, after spending fifteen years at the Chicago Board of Trade and a few more years in boardrooms at brokerage houses, I know firsthand what gender harassment feels like. I'm one of the lucky ones. At the risk of being shunned by my male peers, I somehow made it known what I would and would not tolerate. I purposely had a low threshold for anything said or done that used sex as a way to make me inferior to my co-workers. And you would think by the late 90's, the boys would have accepted women in the financial world are here to stay.

Yet, the Wall Street Journal reports the largest sum ever for a gender discrimination case just went to a female stockbroker at Salomon Smith Barney. An arbitration panel awarded Tameron Keyes $3.2 million. The panel was set up in 1997 as part of the settlement in a high-profile sex discrimination class-action lawsuit against Smith Barney. It was six years ago when Wall Street was forcibly sensitized to what some women go through. The "boom boom room" as the male brokers at one office endearingly called it, was exposed - a place where male brokers hung toilets from the ceiling and played lewd pranks on women. In 1998, Merrill Lynch was also taken to court and, the two companies, 900 claims later, together paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.

In Ms. Keyes case, the panel was not only appalled by the "discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insults" which she endured, they also condemned the firm for "failure to undertake any meaningful investigation of these complaints." The firm even retaliated against her after she complained.

Salomon has moved to change this environment over the past few years. I applaud Ms. Keyes for her courage. She is still a broker at Salomon Smith Barney. For KERA Marketplace Midday, I'm Maxine Shapiro.

Marketplace Midday Reports air on KERA 90.1 Monday - Friday at 1:04 p.m. To contact Maxine Shapiro, please send emails to mshapiro@kera.org.