Marketplace Report: Sexism on Wall Street

U.S. employees of German-based Dresdner Bank claim their co-workers called women "eye candy," and asked one woman to leave a business dinner so everyone else could go to a strip club. Stephen Beard of Marketplace tells Madeleine Brand about the latest allegations of sexism on Wall Street.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Six women have launched what is believed to be the biggest sex discrimination lawsuit in US history. The women are suing a German investment bank for $1.4 billion. They claim they have suffered unfair and abusive treatment at the bank. It's the latest in a string of similar lawsuits to hit financial institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. Joining us now from the MARKETPLACE desk in London is Stephen Beard.

And, Stephen, who are these women and what are they suing about?

STEPHEN BEARD reporting:

Well, they worked for Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, five of them on Wall Street, and one of them here in London. They have senior managerial jobs, director of equity sales, that sort of thing. In their lawsuit, they claim they've been denied further promotion because they're women, are paid less than their male counterparts and have to put up with what they call `a coarse and offensive' working environment.

BRAND: And that environment is detailed in fairly lurid ways in the lawsuit, isn't it?

BEARD: Yes, it certainly is. The women say their male colleagues would bring prostitutes into the office, brag about their visits to strip clubs, and generally subject their female colleagues to vulgar remarks. One of the plaintiffs says her boss called her `the Pamela Anderson of trading,' and other male colleagues said they hired female staff only as `eye candy.'

BRAND: And then what does the bank say?

BEARD: The bank if fighting the case. In a statement, it said it complies fully with American and British employment laws. It doesn't discriminate against women. And it's competent it can defeat this claim.

BRAND: This isn't the first such lawsuit to hit the investment banking business. So what's going on there?

BEARD: Well, I suppose one--the simple answer is sex and money. Without obviously wishing to prejudge this case, what we've had in other cases is bright talented women breaking into what is a highly lucrative and so far male-dominated industry, and that has, obviously, led to some friction. For all its obvious brain power, investment banking can be fairly aggressive, you know, quite a bit of testosterone flying around those trading rooms. But we've had Deutsche Bank, UBS, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, they've all lost big sex-discrimination cases in recent years, and banks are getting very nervous about what we might call this testosterone problem. Morgan Stanley last week fired four male employees after they accompanied a client to a strip club in New York.

BRAND: But I understand that some of these claimants in sex-discrimination cases aren't always successful.

BEARD: No, in fact the woman who launched Britain's biggest-ever claim, after losing her job with Merrill Lynch, lost the sex-discrimination element of her case when it emerged that she had been replaced by another woman.

And coming up later today on "Marketplace," a story about two Chinese car companies expanding into the US.

BRAND: Stephen Beard of public radio's daily business show "Marketplace." And "Marketplace" is produced by American Public Media.

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