UBS stumbles over sex discrimination

UBS is at the centre of a sex-discrimination case in the US Keystone

UBS has been ordered to pay $29.2 million (SFr35.1 million) in damages after losing a sex-discrimination lawsuit in the United States.

This content was published on April 7, 2005 - 11:13

Switzerland’s largest bank had stood accused of mistreating a former Wall Street executive because she was a woman.

A New York district court jury awarded Laura Zubulake, a former director of the bank’s Asian equities sales desk, $20.1 million in punitive damages plus $9.1 million in compensatory damages.

Punitive damages are relatively common under the US legal system, and are intended primarily to deter repetition of the offence rather than to accurately reflect the extent of the individual damages.

Experts said the award was one of the largest payouts to a single plaintiff in an employee discrimination case.

UBS said it would appeal against the decision, which came after a three-year legal process.

"We are disappointed with the verdict," UBS spokesman Serge Steiner told swissinfo on Thursday. "We regard the amount awarded as excessive."

For her part, Zubulake said she was satisfied with the verdict.

"This sends a message not just to UBS but to everybody. The message for all senior women on Wall Street is not to be afraid of standing up and speaking out when they feel they are being treated differently," Zubulake was quoted as saying in the New York Times.

Passed over

Zubulake, who had worked at the bank’s offices in Stamford, Connecticut and Manhattan, sued UBS after she was fired in 2001 from the post she took up in 1999.

In her complaint against the bank, Zubulake said she was passed over for the job of manager.

She claimed that her superior undermined and ridiculed her by making sexist remarks in front of other employees.

She also complained that she was excluded from some outings with clients and was denied important accounts.

In August 2001 Zubulake filed a complaint with the employment commission, but two months later her contract with the bank was terminated.

UBS argued unsuccessfully in court that the plaintiff was sacked because she disobeyed her boss and had performance problems.

Several cases

Wednesday’s verdict against UBS is the latest in a series of legal proceedings against Wall Street financial firms for discrimination against women executives.

Last year the investment bank, Morgan Stanley, agreed to pay $54 million to settle a discrimination suit filed by the employment commission on behalf of a former bond trader and 300 other women.

The US financial management and advisory company, Merrill Lynch, was ordered to pay $2.2 million to a former broker who charged the firm with harassment and discrimination.

Meanwhile Swiss pharmaceuticals firm Novartis is also facing a multi-million dollar sex-discrimination lawsuit.

The Basel-based company stands accused by a group of women of having a "systematic pattern" of discrimination. Novartis denies the allegations.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

UBS has been ordered to pay $29.2 million (SFr35.1 million) to a former Wall Street executive who sued the company for sex discrimination.
UBS said it would appeal against the district court’s decision.
More than half of the employees in the securities industry in the US and more than 70% of all investment bankers, traders and brokers are white males.

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