Lifelong Wells Broker Sues Firm for Age, Gender Discrimination
A broker in upstate New York sued Wells Fargo Advisors on Wednesday for age and gender discrimination related to her manager’s alleged failure to include her in account distributions.
Judith A. Bovitz, 69, complained in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York that a former branch manager in Albany gave lucrative account names “almost exclusively” to younger, male employees when brokers left for other firms or retired.
Bovitz, who has spent her 34-year career at Wells and its Prudential Securities predecessor, manages around $100 million in client assets, according to the complaint.
“I’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year because other advisors were given accounts,” Bovitz said in a phone interview from her home. “I’m sick and tired of being passed over.”
The wealth management unit of Wells Fargo & Co. in 2011 agreed to pay $32 million to settle a gender bias class-action suit with about 3,000 women advisors.
“Wells Fargo Advisors takes these allegations seriously and the company is reviewing,” Wells Advisors spokeswoman Jackie Knolhoff wrote in an e-mail. “We have a process for redistribution of client accounts following a financial advisor’s departure known as FABR (Financial Advisor Book Reassignment) and Ms. Bovitz participated in that process.”
Bovitz, whose BrokerCheck record indicates that Wells allows her to work from residences in South Carolina and New York, said she was transferred from the Albany branch in August to less desirable quarters in Saratoga Springs in retaliation for complaints she began making in 2014 to Wells’ human resources department. She said she was the only female advisor in the Albany branch.
Bovitz’ transfer followed escalation of her protests last February after she failed to receive leads on the accounts of two large brokers who left the firm, according to her complaint. She received the required permission to file the discrimination case from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions.
Linda Friedman, whose Chicago law firm negotiated the infamous “boom boom room” sex-discrimination settlement with Salomon Smith Barney 15 years ago, said that account distribution issues remain a problem on Wall Street, despite most firms having adopted more equitable lottery-like systems.
The systems are being subverted by pre-arranged account inheritances related to the formation of teams and of sun-setting account sales agreements, she said.
“The most common complaint we receive is that it’s cooked through teams, or pools or express provisions that allow assets to transfer [outside of] any objective system,” said Friedman.
Bovitz’ lawsuit names only one branch manager, Frank Dyer, but Bovitz believes that many managers excluded her from distributions on a consistent basis over her career, according to Robert Barravecchio, her Garden City, Long Island-based lawyer.
Dyer, who left Wells two years ago and is now a Merrill Lynch broker in Clifton Park, N.Y., said in a phone call that he was unaware of the filing and declined further comment. Dyer began his career as a broker in 1985, one year after Bovitz became a registered rep, according to their BrokerCheck records.
Bovitz said she has no plans to leave Wells.
“I plan on staying,” she said. “It’s just that they have to learn a lesson.”