Morgan Stanley’s longtime global head of diversity has filed a proposed class action lawsuit in which she alleges her December 2019 firing was racially motivated and came in retaliation for complaining about discrimination and pushing the firm to hire more people of color.
The lawsuit, filed in New York federal court, alleges that while the actions of Morgan Stanley, its CEO and managing director appear on their face to be genuine efforts at bolstering inclusion and diversity at the firm, nothing can be further from the truth.
As the complaint tells it, though the firm and its officers claim to have been moved by recent protests and global outrage after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many others – going so far as to create an Institute of Inclusion group aimed at promoting diversity within Morgan Stanley’s ranks – the plaintiff’s firing late last year reveals the defendants’ true stance with regard to those who attempt to “disrupt the status quo.”
According to the 47-page lawsuit, Morgan Stanley has time and again failed spectacularly “when it has had to actually look itself in the mirror” in deciding whether to address the “deep-seated racially unjust policies” that have led to “alarmingly low and disproportionate” numbers of Black employees and other workers of color across all ranks within the company. Rather than truly question its role in “perpetuating inequalities” in its hiring processes, payment and promotion structures, and “toxic workplace cultures,” Morgan Stanley has “repeatedly stopped short” of implementing any meaningful policy changes despite encountering numerous opportunities to do so.
“Morgan Stanley claims that it supports Black female employees as they develop, but in reality, only those in leadership positions, predominantly White men, have the authority to make meaningful client contacts, engage in business pitches, invite potential clients or existing clients to exclusive social events, such as, by way of example only, outings at private golf clubs, charity golf tournaments at private country clubs and attendance at professional sports events.
Without the same opportunities to secure substantial new business, network and maintain client relationships, as are given to White employees, primarily men, the perpetual state of lower compensation, lower levels of responsibilities, titles and roles for Black female employees at Morgan Stanley is a cruel reality.”
In place of substantial reforms, Morgan Stanley has chosen the opposite track, actively silencing those who speak out and advocate for change, the lawsuit alleges, citing the plaintiff’s firing as one example of the defendants’ way of handling disruptors:
“She paid the ultimate price by losing her job merely because she pushed too hard for reforms that would disrupt the status quo on White dominance and result in more Black and minority employees at Morgan Stanley, including among Morgan Stanley’s Financial Advisor (“FA”) and FA trainee (“Trainee”) ranks.”
The plaintiff, a former 26-year Morgan Stanley employee and the only Black female managing director of the company’s New York City wealth management division, claims she “tirelessly” raised concerns about what the lawsuit calls “the irrefutable and appalling patterns” of discrimination in the firm’s hiring, retention and promotion of Black employees. Per the lawsuit, the plaintiff actively worked to force Morgan Stanley’s leadership to address “systematic racial discrimination rampant at the Firm.”
According to the lawsuit, however, although it was the plaintiff’s job as chief of global diversity to work with the Black community and diversify the firm’s workforce, Morgan Stanley “did nothing but hamstring her ability to do so,” steadily decreasing her budget year after year. Despite asking in writing for more money annually, the plaintiff was “constantly denied” even though Morgan Stanley’s diversity budget amounted to less than a drop in the bucket “compared to the money it threw at other initiatives” and the company’s overall revenue.
In all, Morgan Stanley’s recent—and publicized—contributions amid a nationwide racial awakening do not speak to what’s actually gone on at the firm behind closed doors, the plaintiff alleges.
“Clearly, Black lives did not matter at Morgan Stanley,” the lawsuit says.
Despite testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008 to Morgan Stanley’s shortcomings with regard to diversity in its workforce, the plaintiff was utilized by the firm as a “token response” and symbol of its purported commitment to inclusion, the lawsuit claims. Per the suit, the plaintiff was “trott[ed] … out for publicity” by Morgan Stanley “whenever it believed such showcasing was necessary or beneficial.”
Eleven years after her remarks to Congress, the plaintiff was punished in 2019 by Morgan Stanley for her attempts to address the “open secret” of systemic racial discrimination within the firm, the lawsuit claims, in particular for the very type of initiative the defendants have recently disseminated in the media.
“Specifically, [the plaintiff] pushed for reforms to the status quo aimed at addressing the lack of diversity at Morgan Stanley, and in particular created a proposal to internally remedy the unequal and marginalized treatment she saw inflicted on employees of color, including minority FAs and Trainees,” the complaint reads.
Throughout Fall 2019, the defendants refused to listen to the plaintiff’s plan to bolster diversity among the firm’s ranks, the case says, noting that discrimination had in fact gotten worse at Morgan Stanley, with many Black managing directors leaving the company between 2017 and 2019, after its CEO’s appointment.
Notwithstanding initially feigned interest in her diversity plan for financial agents and trainees, the plaintiff was “consistently and humiliatingly ignored” by Morgan Stanley, who the lawsuit says refused to even listen to the woman’s plan, before being subject to an alleged campaign of discrimination prior to her termination. From the complaint:
“In horrifying fashion, on December 9, 2019, Morgan Stanley ruthlessly fired Ms. Booker after nearly 26 years of dedicated and loyal service. Having had no performance issues, Ms. Booker was blindsided. No explanation for her firing was given other than typical corporate posturing that her position – which was primarily to help Black people and people of color – was simply being eliminated.”
The plaintiff alleges that it has never been more clear that “diversity is the last thing Morgan Stanley cares about.”
In a statement provided toLaw360, Morgan Stanley denied the plaintiff’s allegations.
“We are steadfast in our commitment to improve the diversity of our employees and have made steady progress—while recognizing that we have further progress to make,” Morgan Stanley Executive Director of Corporate Communications Gaston Terrones Dimant said. “We will continue to advance our high priority efforts to achieve a more diverse and inclusive firm.”
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