Ex-Schwab Relationship Manager Files Age Discrimination Suit
A former Charles Schwab relationship manager with three decades of industry experience has sued the firm over age discrimination, providing examples of alleged harassment by a supervisor over emails she sent to clients.
The emails brought unsought attention from the public and from Schwab’s chief executive, according to the complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in the southern division of Michigan’s eastern district.
One “client” posted on a blog a January 2017 email from Knowles paraphrasing Schwab talking points on how it would enforce an unspecified SEC statute. A “member of the media” asked Schwab if the blog represented its “official position” on the company’s enforcement of the statute, according to the lawsuit.
Knowles, unlike her younger colleagues, received a written warning about the email and other communications, it said.
She also got into trouble for sending a mass email to her RIA clients in June 2017 regarding firm policy on custody of assets. One complained about the policy to Schwab’s chief executive, demonstrating that Knowles “did not have control of the client,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit did not mention Schwab Chief Executive Walt Bettinger by name, but said that the “client” had “a personal relationship” with the CEO.
Knowles’ “managing director,” who was not named in the lawsuit, began questioning her about her plans to remain at the firm in March 2017, and forced her to resign in October 2017 in lieu of termination, the complaint said. She was the oldest employee supervised by the managing director and was replaced by someone younger than 40, it said.
“While we dispute the claims of this case, it is our general policy not to comment publicly on pending litigation, including litigation involving current or former employees,” said Peter Greenley, managing director of corporate reputation at Schwab.
The firm “complies with all applicable employment laws,” he added.
Knowles, who first registered as an associated person in 1983 with Prudential-Bache Securities Inc. and who now works at Mercer Global Advisors, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, interest, costs and attorneys’ fees.
The lawsuit alleges that Schwab violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act and retalaiated against her and harassed her in violation of Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Knowles and her lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. At Mercer, an RIA that manages more than $16 billion, she is a managing director at an Ann Arbor, Mich., office, according to the Denver-based firm’s website.
She worked for Schwab for three years as a senior relationship manager at its Novi, Mich., branch, according to her BrokerCheck history. She also has worked at eight other firms, including Princor Financial Services Corp., J.P. Morgan Securities Inc., Intersecurities, Inc., Nationwide Fund Distributors LLC and Banc One Securities Corp.
Age discrimination lawsuits in the securities industry are relatively rare and can be more difficult to prove than sex and race discrimination suits, according to employment lawyers.
An age suit filed in April by a 72-year-old Morgan Stanley employee in Los Angeles is pending, and another filed against Wells Fargo Advisors in February by a 69-year-old broker in Albany, NY, is in mediation, according to court filings.