BREAKING NEWS: Bank of America Hit In Lurid Gender Pay Bias Lawsuit

May 17, 2016

In a recently filed Complaint in the United States Distrcit Court for the Southern District of New York ("SDNY"), Plaintiff Megan Messina alleges that Bank of America sexually discriminated against her as a result of "gender disparities in compensation and business opportunities at the nation's largest bank and brokerage firm." Further, Messina alleges that she was retaliated against in violation of Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the whistleblower protective provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Megan Messina, Plaintiff, v. Bank Of America Corporation, Bank Of America Securities, LLC, and Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated, Defendants (Complaint, SDNY, 16-CV-03653, May 16, 2016).


The Complaint characterizes Messina as a 42 year old female and single mother of three children ages 11, 9, and 6. At the time of the filing of the Complaint, she was purportedly employed by Bank of America as Co-Head of Global Structured Credit Products and Credit Asset Financing.Following her 1996 college graduation, she initiated her financial service career with Paine Webber, where she remained until 1998, at which time she joine Salomon Smith Barney. In 2007, Messina became a Director at Bank of America and was promoted to Managing Director in December 2011.

Females Treated as Second-Class Citizens

As more fully set forth in the Complaint, Messina asserts that:

4. Beneath the veneer of a world-class financial institution, BofA treats their female Managing Directors as second-class citizens. Plaintiff Messina is no exception. Every year throughout the liability period in this case, Messina has earned substantially less than similarly situated males solely because she is a woman.

5. This earnings disparity is a result of, among other factors, BofA's unvalidated company- wide policies and practices that govern compensation and the distribution of accounts and business opportunities, and the lack of proper accountability measures to ensure fairness.

6. As more specifically set forth herein, BofA's discriminatory animus towards Messina because she is a woman has resulted in diminished commercial opportunities, marginalization, excluding her from business functions, meetings and information, discrediting her efforts, paying her grotesquely lower than and disparately from her similarly situated male peers and ultimately destroying her career at BofA with the implication of ruining her future professional participation within the financial services industry.

Discrimination From Day 1

The Complaint attempts to detail Messina's travails with Frank Kotsen, Bank of America's Head of Global Credit and Special Situations. As explained in the Complaint:

40. From January 2009 to February 2015, Messina served as the Head of New Issue Global Structured Credit.

41. In February 2015, Messina assumed her current role, Co-Head of Global Structured Credit Products, at which time she began to report to Frank Kotsen, Head of Global Credit and Special Situations ("Kotsen").


42. At the time Messina became Co-Head of Global Structured Credit Products and continuously to date, she was (and remains) the only female reporting to Kotsen.

43. Kotsen's revenue-producing direct reports currently include 10 other men . . .

44. From the moment Messina was assigned as Kotsen's direct report, Kotsen made it clear that she was NOT welcome within his subordinate "bro's club" of all-male sycophants.

. . .

48. Beginning with their very first meeting, Kotsen immediately made Messina feel like a second-class citizen. Throughout the course of calendar year 2015, Kotsen consistently and with increasing frequency excluded Messina from emails, meetings, get-togethers, and dinners that included his direct reports and/or Messina's clients while including her male peers. 

49. As the only woman in a sea of men under Kotsen, Messina never stood a chance to be included and therefore never stood a chance to succeed. 

50. In their first conversation, Kotsen was more interested in Messina's appearance than her professional skills and acumen. 

51. Kotsen saw Messina only as a woman and not as a colleague; and he made sure that she knew it. 

52. Insultingly, in this first conversation, Kotsen stopped Messina twice to ask demeaning and ludicrous questions such as: "Have you colored your hair?" and "Have your eyes always been that blue?"

In-House Failure 

In arguing that Messina had exhausted all reasonable in-house avenues to redress her issues, the Complaint explains that:

86. Despite multiple meetings discussing Messina's complaints of these unlawful actions, BofA has not only failed to investigate any of Messina's complaints or take any remedial actions to address the rampant gender-based discrimination and compliance issues but has also failed to intervene when Messina was then retaliated against for her lawful complaints.

87. To date, BofA has retaliated against Messina by placing her on administrative leave without justification, instructing her to not show up to work until further notice.

Dollars and Cents -- And No Sense?

The Complaint argues that Messina's objections to her compensation were not the mere protests of a disgruntled employee but went to deeper and more institutionally based issues involving clear-cut gender gaps:

94. Despite the objective reviews of Messina's clients and customers, Kotsen's gender bias remained unwavered, as he awarded Messina a 2015 bonus of $1,550,000, nearly $4,000,000 less than her male Co-Head, Trepanier whose bonus was $5,500,000 - an astonishing difference of 360% for work requiring equal skill, effort and responsibility and which has been performed under similar working conditions!

95. Subsequent to learning of her own 2015 bonus, Messina learned of the bonuses of other Kotsen reports.

96. To add insult to injury, not only is Messina's 2015 bonus the lowest of all Kotsen reports by a significant margin, it is also grotesquely and disparately lower than many of Trepanier's reports, traders - who are less senior, less qualified, men.

Bill Singer's Comment

It is imperative that Blog readers keep in mind that a civil Complaint merely contains allegations and that the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law beyond a preponderance of the evidence. That being said, I urge all serious market participants to read this compelling and at times chilling Complaint. There are far more allegations and details contained in the pleading than time permitted me to present.

READ the FULL-TEXT Complaint