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Women Claim Goldman Sachs Was "Boys' Club" In Pay Discrimination Suit

The suit, originally filed in 2010, alleges systematic mistreatment and that women were underpaid and promoted less frequently. Several female former Goldman Sachs employees made similar claims.

Posted on July 1, 2014, at 10:45 p.m. ET

Brendan Mcdermid / Reuters / Reuters

The plaintiffs in a four-year-old suit against Goldman Sachs are trying to turn their case into a class action on behalf of hundreds of women who work at the investment banking giant.

Two of the women who originally sued Goldman in 2010 are seeking to sue on behalf of female Goldman associates and vice presidents as well, arguing in a filing Tuesday that the bank had "discriminatory performance review, compensation, and promotion procedures," that lead to systematically lower pay for junior female employees.

The plaintiffs cited a statistical analysis showing that female vice presidents earned 21% less than their male counterparts, while female associates earned 8% less and that 23% fewer vice presidents who were women earned promotions to managing director.

The plaintiffs asked a judge to certify a class including female vice presidents and associates, the two most junior roles in the firm, who worked in Goldman's investment banking, investment management, and securities divisions from Sept. 10, 2004, to the present, and for women who worked in New York City from July 7, 2002, to now.

The plaintiffs alleged in a court filing that Goldman's "common, discriminatory performance review, compensation, and promotion procedures ... cause systemic disparate treatment against women" in violation of federal and New York City anti-discrimination laws. The plaintiffs said that the group of women they seek to represent as a class numbered at least 1,762. The plaintiffs are seeking back pay and damages.

The attempted expansion of the suit comes as claims of pay and gender discrimination have rocked several prestigious companies outside of Wall Street, which has long struggled with alleged mistreatment of female employees. Former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson complained to Publisher Arthur Sulzberger that she was paid less than her predecessor Bill Keller and even hired a lawyer before being fired for what publisher Sulzberger described as management deficiencies. Ellen Pao, then a partner at the prestigious Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, sued the firm in 2012, alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

David Wells, a Goldman spokesman said of the effort to certify the class: "This is a normal and anticipated procedural step for any proposed class action lawsuit and does not change the case's lack of merit."

The new filing repeated some of the most attention-grabbing claims in the original suit including that Goldman held work events "at strip clubs where the sexualization of women is endorsed and celebrated" and that Goldman "tolerates managers who engage in gender stereotyping, sexual harassment, and/or gender favoritism."

"This constellation of evidence reflects widespread concerns among women about gender bias and a "boys' club" atmosphere; the sexualization of women and an uncorrected culture of sexual harassment and assault," the most recent filing said.

A person familiar with the case said that Goldman would oppose class certification and will argue that the statistical arguments the plaintiffs make fail to compare similar employees with each other. Goldman, this person said, "has strong arguments showing that there is no common unfavorable effect on women of the performance, promotion, and compensation processes."

Goldman is not the only Wall Street bank to face gender discrimination claims. Bank of America settled a gender bias case last year for $39 million, while a decade ago Morgan Stanley settled its own discrimination case for $54 million. Citibank was accused of gender bias in a 2010 suit by six current and former employees.

One of the original plaintiffs, Shanna Orlich, who worked at Goldman from 2007 to 2008 and is now as lawyer in Phoenix, said she was not invited to golf outings with colleagues on account of her gender and that a trader with less experience than her was given a trading seat "right away" and their bosses challenged him to push-up contests.

The filing references the most serious claim in the original complaint: that Cristina Chen-Oster, who now works at Deutsche Bank after leaving Goldman in 2005, was groped and forcibly kissed by a male co-worker after a party at Scores, a strip club. Afterward, Chen-Oster said she faced "increased hostility and marginalization at the firm," the complaint says. Chen-Oster worked at Goldman for eight years.

While many of the new statements included claims from former Goldman employees similar to the claims in the original suit, one current Goldman employee submitted a declaration to the court alleging pay discrimination based on her gender.

Allison Gamba, a 13-year veteran trader at Goldman, said in a statement that she believed Goldman Sachs "has discriminated against me in the way it evaluated my performance" and "has denied me compensation that it has provided instead to similarly-situated men." Gamba was the only woman who gave a statement supporting the claims by the plaintiffs who still work at Goldman.

Gamba said she believes she was "passed over" for a promotion from vice president to managing director in 2008 "due to my gender." She said she earned $9.5 million for the bank that year, a $3.5 million increase from the year before. A promotion went instead, Gamba said, to "to a male who earned less profit for the firm" and whom other colleagues considered a "lesser trader" than Gamba.

She also said that she spoke to a senior executive who then refused to support her because "he would be ridiculed if he did." Gamba also said she is excluded from golf outings with male colleagues despite being a "longtime, avid golfer."

Denise Shelley, who worked at Goldman from 2005 to 2009 and rose to vice president, submitted a statement supporting the suit's claims. Shelley said she heard male colleagues say that female associates and vice presidents "were hired for sales for their attractiveness and not their intelligence and these women were 'bimbos.'"

Shelley, who now works at Cantor Fitzgerald, also said that she "rarely went out with my team after work hours," but after one time when she went to a nightclub with colleagues, a male managing director the next day started referring to her as a "party girl." Shelley said that she believed lower-level female employees "encountered difficulties finding superiors who were willing to become our champions ... because we were considered outsiders to the dominant culture."

"I hope to help change Goldman Sachs for the better," Gamba said in her statement, "even if I may only experience those improvements later in my career."