In a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA") Arbitration Statement of Claim filed in September 2010, Claimant Kirkland asserted
Claimant sought $1 million in compensatory damages (reduced to $155,000 at the hearing's close) plus punitive damages, interest, costs, and attorneys' fees, and an expungement. In the Matter of the FINRA Arbitration Between Jacquelyn D. Kirkland, Claimant, vs. Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith Inc., Respondent (FINRA Arbitration 10-04339, September 21, 2012).
Respondent Merrill Lynch generally denied the allegations and asserted various affirmative defenses.
The FINRA Arbitration Panel found Respondent Merrill Lynch liable and ordered it to pay to Claimant Kirkland $50,000 in compensatory damages and $139,635.03 in attorneys' fees:
based upon the implied contract that Respondent would provide a position that an employee could reasonably perform in a workplace that was conducive to learning reasonable new functions.
Separately, the Panel declined to recommend an expungement.
Regular readers of "Street Sweeper" know that such an introductory grunt at the beginning of myComment is not a good sign - it expresses my ongoing frustration with FINRA Arbitration Decisions that titillate us but then fail to deliver adequate facts or rationale. Here is yet another in a too long a line of such disappointments.
For starters, this truly shaped up as an interesting wrongful termination contest between a former employee and employer. Then there was that healthy demand for the good old million bucks in compensatory damages - which got trimmed down to a mere demand for $155,000.
In ruling in Claimant's favor, the Arbitration Panel informed us that there was an implied contract that Respondent would provide a position that an employee could reasonably perform in a workplace that was conducive to learning reasonable new functions. Unfortunately, there is no meaningful context or fact pattern against which to place that intriguing bit of rationale, and, as such, it's largely a wasted bit of explanation.This case took two years to get adjudicated and we are left with more questions than answers.
What functions did Claimant Kirkland seek to perform? How did her workplace inhibit her performance? What were the new functions that she wanted to learn? Alas, unanswered questions - all of them.
In the end, we have a former employee who got about $50,000 in damages plus nearly $140,000 in attorneys' fees - for what or why, I truly don't know. Sadly, thousands of industry employees, many at large firm such as Merrill, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, UBS, and the like, may be encouraged by the outcome of this case but left with virtually no understanding of what the case was about or why the Panel rendered the award it did. Given the mandatory nature of intra-industry arbitration on Wall Street, that's just not fair!