Young feminists rally in support of the women suing Mitsubishi. Kris Jackson, second from right, president of Peoria (Ill.) NOW, will deliver this strong message of solidarity. Photo by Beth Corbin.
To chants like "Smith Barney, you can't hide! We know what goes on inside" and "Equal pay for equal work" scores of NOW activists picketed in front of Smith Barney branch offices in seven cities March 24. Protests made news in Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Kansas City, Mo., Memphis and San Francisco.
The day of action followed NOW President Patricia Ireland's announcement March 12 that Smith Barney would be targeted as NOW's first "Merchant of Shame," a key component of the Women-Friendly Workplace Campaign. The campaign is a proactive project aimed at stopping sexual harassment and other workplace abuses.
NOW's Board of Directors named Mitsubishi as the second "Merchant of Shame" during a meeting in April in Washington, D.C. The Board issued a resolution calling on NOW activists across the country to target both Smith Barney and Mitsubishi with Mothers' Day demonstrations. Ireland cited Mitsubishi's failure to deliver on its promises, including just treatment of the women who have filed sexual harassment charges.
(A vision of what a true Women-Friendly Workplace should look like, illustrated by artist Dana Tiger of Oklahoma NOW).
"Sexual harassment has nothing to do with the color of your collar," NOW President Patricia Ireland said. "Whether you're on an assembly line or in an office, sexual harassment is a tool men use to keep half of the population from competing with them for jobs with good pay and benefits."
Last year the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the largest sexual harassment suit in its history against Mitsubishi, charging hundreds of incidents at the company's Normal, Ill., plant. Smith Barney likewise is embroiled in litigation alleging widespread discrimination and sexual harassment.
Smith Barney's method of doing business "the old fashioned way" has landed it in court where the firm faces the largest suit of its kind in the securities industry. The 26 women who are named plaintiffs in the class action case allege abysmal working conditions and a culture of discrimination and harassment throughout the Smith Barney system -- coast-to-coast. Smith Barney's own spokesperson acknowledged that only 13 percent of the company's 11,000 brokers, and just eight out of nearly 400 branch managers, are women.
Smith Barney's CEO fired off a letter demanding an apology for NOW's "grandstanding," and publicity seeking and the firm's public relations department called several NOW chapters about the protests.
"We'll be here long after the camera lights fade," Ireland said. "We're in this for as long as it takes to win justice."
In the case, Martens, et al, v. Smith Barney, et al, the lead plaintiff is Pamela Martens, who charges that her former branch manager in Smith Barney's Garden City, N.Y., office had a history of discriminating against, and making sexually inappropriate remarks to, women employees. According to Martens' complaint, the branch manager referred to women in vulgar terms and used sexually offensive language.
Martens charges that the manager once led around the office a woman sales assistant wearing culottes. Stopping at each male broker's desk, he ordered the woman to spread her legs, so the men could vote on whether the culottes violated the dress code for women in the office.
Martens also said the manager constructed a "Boom Boom Room" in the basement of the office. The room was allegedly decorated fraternity house style, complete with a toilet bowl hanging from the ceiling and an oversized trash can used to serve Bloody Marys to male brokers. The manager is accused of saying that sexual harassment complaints would be "deliberated" in the "Boom Boom Room".
Another plaintiff charges that a branch manager in Richmond, Va., told women employees at an office Christmas party that he would pay them $100 to take off their shirts. The same manager is accused of announcing to a group of brokers that they would all contribute money to a woman employee so she could get a "boob job." The plaintiff charges that the manager had a habit of calling women "babe" and on at least one occasion tapped a woman on her rear-end with a yard-stick.
The 94-page complaint details allegations of harassment and/or discrimination at branch offices in 11 states. Additionally, attorneys for the plaintiffs say they have heard complaints from as many as 100 women across the country.
The plaintiffs allege that despite complaints to management and the company's human resources department, which is supposed to deal with such matters, Smith Barney failed to take appropriate action to stop the harassment and discrimination. Further, they argue that women at Smith Barney are trapped in lower-paying positions and not given an opportunity to advance within the company. Those women who are able to make it into higher paying jobs allegedly are treated less favorably than men in comparable positions.
The securities industry poses an additional hurdle for women who experience sexual harassment and sex discrimination. Due to binding arbitration agreements, which brokers and other industry employees are required to sign upon accepting their jobs, women are forced to relinquish their right to a trial before a judge and jury. Instead, these women must appear before an arbitration board appointed by representatives of the very companies about which employees complain. Smith Barney has aggressively lobbied to keep the mandatory arbitration requirement.
Smith Barney CEO Jamie Dimon denounced the charges against his company and cited the firm's first "Guiding Principle" that states, "we are committed to leading the financial services industry by becoming the employer of choice for all people, regardless of age, race, gender, religion or sexual orientation."
Ireland challenged Dimon to respond with positive results instead of empty rhetoric.
"We'll continue our protests and informational picketing until we are convinced that the locker room climate on Wall Street is history," Ireland said. "We won't go away until women and people of color have equal access and success at Smith Barney and throughout the securities industry."
NOW activists and Smith Barney consumers can demand an end to sexual harassment and sex discrimination by calling Dimon at 212-816-8800 or writing to him at Smith Barney, 388 Greenwich Street, New York, NY, 10013.
Information about the Women-Friendly Workplace Campaign is available on NOW's Website at http://www.now.org/issues/wfw/ or at the NOW Action Center at 202-331-0066.
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