Citigroup Slammed With Lawsuit By Former Female Employees
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
While layoffs have hit women and men of every color in nearly every sector of the American economy, women on Wall Street have also been affected. And, yes, they know that their profession is not the best loved in America these days. But government numbers bear out the gender differences. They show that more than five times as many women as men lost their jobs in the financial services industry from mid 2007 to mid 2010. And at least five women from the Citigroup financial companies say they lost their jobs because of gender bias.
Their suit filed against Citicorp last week follows a suit last month by three women at the investment bank Goldman Sachs that claimed systematic discrimination against women. And there was another earlier this year at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. All of these companies deny discrimination against women, but one plaintiff says her company has pink-slipped a generation of future female Wall Street leaders.
We wanted to know more about this. So we've called one woman who has joined the suit against Citigroup. She still works there. Her name is Dorly Hazan-Amir. She's an associate in Citigroup's asset finance division. The attorney for the plaintiffs, Douglas Wigdor, is also with us. And with us from San Francisco for additional context is Professor Joan C. Williams, the director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law.
Welcome to you all. Thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. DOUGLAS WIGDOR (Attorney): Thanks for having us on the show.
Ms. DORLY HAZAN-AMIR (Associate, Citigroup Asset Finance Division): Hi.
MARTIN: And Dorly Hazan-Amir, why don't you start with us, and if you could just tell us the basis of your suit against Citigroup.
Ms. HAZAN-AMIR: I've been an associate with the asset finance group for the last four years. And it's been a challenging four years from the beginning. In fact, before I even joined the group when I was in training, I was warned that I'm about to join a very difficult group from a perspective of it being a boys' club. And a group that doesn't like to hire women and when it does, treats them as second class citizens.
And I quickly came to realize that I and several women before me were being discriminated against both in terms of compensation and in terms of promotions. And it all came to a head about almost a year ago when I returned from my maternity leave and was told that suddenly my skill set was no longer appropriate for a transactor skill set, and I was demoted to a less prestigious and less lucrative role in the credit division of the group.
And the woman before me, she was actually demoted right after her first pregnancy and then laid off after her second pregnancy. And I was just shocked to find out that I was just going to be another chapter in their long history of discriminating against women.
MARTIN: Citigroup responded to our request for comment with a statement that says, in part - and we will post it on our site so people can see it for themselves - that you have been and will continue to be treated fairly and lawfully during your employment at Citi. It goes on to say, many of her, meaning your, allegations are false, unsupported or taken completely out of context. And they also say that you, specifically, that it's your performance, not your gender or your pregnancy that mattered in employment decisions.
And just briefly I'll ask you your response to that before we turn to your attorney.
Ms. HAZAN-AMIR: Well, this goes far beyond a situation where it's my word against theirs. That would be a much easier argument for them to make if I was the only one. But if there's so many women before me and such a long history and a documented history because they've had the exact same type of lawsuit they were faced with a couple of years ago, not to mention another more senior woman in the group who actually submitted a formal claim with HR against one of the managers that I'm complaining against. So the history is well documented.
The second aspect of their response is that comments were taken out of context. Well, I think that's quite interesting because a lot of their comments that were made towards me over the years, they're quite disgusting and inappropriate. I don't even want to bring them up on the air here. But just as one example, while working only a few days in the group, and having a number of my male colleagues in my cubicle working with me on something, the regional head of the group walked by and said, well, I'm all for this hiring women thing, but not if it's just going to cost me three of my men every time you can't do something.
These are the types of comments and incidents that you - when they happen to you, you remember them vividly and you remember the exact circumstances under which they happened.
MARTIN: And obviously we recognize that Citigroup has its own perspective on these issues, but what do you think it's about? You just think that there is, even in this day and age, just a biased against working with women?
Ms. HAZAN-AMIR: Absolutely.
MARTIN: Or the other question I have for you is, do you think it has something to do with your status as a mother?
Ms. HAZAN-AMIR: I think it's two-faced. I think Citigroup still, and a lot of Wall Street, still suffers from a boys club fraternity-type atmosphere. But an added aspect to that is being a mother, and to use one of Professor Williams term, you absolutely hit a maternal wall.
MARTIN: Douglas Wigdor, talk to us a little bit more about some of the other claims of the women who are in your group. And I want to ask you the same question. Is it your sense that the behavior that's alleged, is it because these women are women or is it because they're mothers?
Mr. WIGDOR: Well, this is a case of what I call recessionary discrimination, which is essentially using the struggling economy as a cover-up for discrimination against women. You had predominately male managers who were given unfettered discretion in choosing who to lay off, and they chose women at a highly disproportionate rate. In fact, one of the women who was retained -who was not retained and who was let go - was earning far larger bonuses than the man who was actually - whose job is there still today. And the reason that Citi gave for letting her go was that she was earning too much money. She was earning the money because she was far superior.
What this is really all about is senior management at Citi, and other banks for that matter as well, are predominantly made up of men. And as you go through the ranks of managing directors and directors, you'll see that the vast majority, close to 90 percent of them, are men. So when they're given the decision to, say, reduce headcount by X or Y, the people that they are going to retain are those that they feel most comfortable with. They're going to retain the jobs of the guy that they go out for a drink with after work, the guy that they might watch a football game with. They are also going to - the stereotypes that are also going to come into their decision-making process are that a woman is going to eventually leave, perhaps, because she might have a child, she might not work as hard, that a woman might be a supplemental income to the family, and that the man is the real breadwinner for the family.
MARTIN: If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about a spate of recent lawsuits against major Wall Street firms alleging gender discrimination. I am speaking with Douglas Wigdor, who is the attorney for a group of plaintiffs who have filed suit against Citigroup; Dorly Hazan-Amir, whos a plaintiff, she continues to work for Citigroup; and we're also speaking with Professor Joan C. Williams of the Center for WorkLife Law at Hastings.
So Professor Williams, what do you make of all this?
Prof. WILLIAMS: Well, it's really remarkable to have this level of illegal activity surrounding one industry in such a short period of time, and I think what it shows is that this area of the economy is very, very tough for women. It's really still a man's world. The definitions of competence swirl around a sort of mine's bigger than yours macho masculinity. And when that's true, women face a number of different kinds of gender bias. One, as Ms. Hazan-Amir has talked about, is the maternal wall, where motherhood triggers very strong assumptions of lack of competence and commitment. Even if the woman remains as competent as she was, once she is a mother, there are very, very profound questions raised.
Then there are issues of competence, where if you have defined merit and corporate culture in terms of a sort of swaggering masculinity, women don't seem to fit. And so they have to prove their competence over and over and over again. And that's one of the contexts in which perhaps, when you have a layoff, you look around and you see, well, who's a keeper and the result ends up in layoffs disproportionately of women.
MARTIN: One of the other statements that Citigroup makes here is that they say that they have a long-standing commitment to equal employment practices. But they also point out that their diversity work has been recognized by external organizations like Working Mother magazine, which names Citi as one of the 100 best companies for working mothers 19 times, and Diversity Inc. magazine, which recognizes city as its top 25 noteworthy companies for diversity. So Joan Williams, what does that suggest to you?
Prof. WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, very often these diversity initiatives focus on helping the women, and even if you have in good faith a woman's initiative, flexible work arrangements, these things are going to remain marginalized and women will remain somewhat embattled, unless you go back and really recognize that you have to focus on the men. The men matter in reshaping this kind of corporate culture, and simply having a woman's initiative or having nice work-family policies that look really great on paper, they don't ultimately change that corporate culture, which is what leaves women so embattled.
MARTIN: Dorly Hazan-Amir, what about that? I think what Professor Williams is saying is that there might be these initiatives, but that they don't affect the core culture. And I would like to ask, what you make of the disconnect between how the institution that you work for has been viewed by others and how you see it from the inside?
Ms. HAZAN-AMIR: It's actually quite interesting that you bring up those rankings because I was aware of them before joining Citigroup. And they actually were a factor in my decision-making process on choosing my next place of employment, when I accepted Citigroup's offer and was extremely disappointed to come and be faced with a very different reality at the Asset Finance Group. I can't really speak towards any of these awards or rankings. I don't know how they work. I don't know whose publicist was calling who and getting Citigroup's name out there. What I can tell you is the reality of the matter, and that is that I was demoted immediately upon having a child. The woman who got pregnant before me was demoted immediately upon having her first child and laid off during the maternity leave after having her second child. The woman who got pregnant before her was forced out of the group immediately after she gave birth. It's quite a simple story. If you are a woman who has a child in the Asset Finance Group, you will be pushed out. That is the history. That's the way it is.
MARTIN: I think I feel comfortable in saying that this is not the most popular issue with the public right now. Many people are very unhappy with Wall Street. They feel that they played a pivotal role in the financial crisis, and as Dorly pointed out, have got millions in taxpayer money to bail them out and a lot of people are very unhappy about that. So the question I want to ask is, why should the public care about this, even - however meritorious the individual claims might be? Joan Williams, what do you think about that?
Prof. WILLIAMS: I think this Wall Street culture, to the extent that it exists, in my view was part of what got us into the pickle that we got into with the Great Recession, where men in the industry, and perhaps women as well, confused what was a rational assessment of risk with whose was biggest.
MARTIN: Hmm. Dorly Hazan-Amir, I'm going to give you the final word. I'm going to ask you that same question, because I think there are those who would argue that a certain aggressiveness is - a swagger, if you want to call it that - is part the personality that's required to do that job. And so as a person on the inside, I'd like to ask you do you think it can be changed?
Ms. HAZAN-AMIR: Well, you know, culture is going to be something that's very difficult to change, and obviously it's going to be something that is going to, it's going to take time and effort for it to be brought about. But, you know what, that's not a reason not to try, and too many women before me figured, well, there's just too much at stake. I'm just going to walk away quietly and go on with my life and let this be someone else's problem, and that's why it has gone on for as long it has, and it's about time that someone stood up and at least tried to put an end to it, because looking the other way is not the answer.
MARTIN: Dorly Hazan-Amir is an associate in Citigroup's Asset Finance division. She's one of six current and former female employees claiming gender discrimination by the company. They are represented by Douglas Wigdor. He is a partner at Thompson Wigdor and Gilly, and they were both with us from our studios in New York. Joan C. Williams is director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. Her latest book is Reshaping the Work-Family Debate, and she joined us from member station KQED in San Francisco.
Thank you both so much - thank you all so much for joining us.
Mr. WIGDOR: Thank you.
Prof. WILLIAMS: Thank you.
Ms. HAZAN-AMIR: Thank you.
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