A lawsuit filed Monday describes a prominent international hedge fund as a Mad Men-esque workplace, where male traders described women as “bitches” and “cunts” and publicly rated their appearance on the trading room floor. The complaint against Advent Capital Management by former employee Courtney Robb claims the company’s top brass allowed the behavior to continue and retaliated against her when she complained.
“This case demonstrates that #MeToo still has many miles to go on Wall Street,” an attorney on the case, Jeanne Christensen, said in a statement. “Female employees continue to be silenced in this male-dominated sector.”
In a statement, Advent said it is a “minority-owned firm which takes seriously its commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace” and plans to “vigorously defend against these claims.”
“While Advent cannot comment on pending litigation, we believe that the complaint does not fairly or accurately recount the facts of this matter,” the company said. “Advent is proud of its commitment to a culture free of harassment and being a strong advocate of civil rights organizations nationally.”
Robb started working at Advent, a $9 billion dollar hedge fund with offices in New York and London, as a junior investment associate in 2016. At the time, according to the suit, the company employed only one woman across the risk, business development, sales and investment departments—a female “trading assistant”—and to this day, the company lists no female executives on its website. Instead, the complaint claims, women were confined largely to the client advisory group where Robb worked, selling investment strategies to potential clients and maintaining relationships with existing ones.
The complaint claims the women in this group were routinely subject to harassing comments made by one man in particular, portfolio manager Mike Brown. Among other things, Robb claims Brown frequently rated women on a 1-10 scale on the trading room floor, and made comments such as, “Watching women get out of cabs should be a spectator sport.”
In one instance, Robb claims Brown asked her if she had had a “wild weekend,” saying she “looked like a party girl.” In another, she claims he cornered her in the office kitchen and asked if she “want[ed] a kiss,” before reaching to grab a Hershey’s Chocolate Kiss from the table behind her. Seeing Robb’s stricken reaction, the complaint claims, Brown squeezed her and told her to “lighten up.”
In another instance, the complaint claims Brown began talking loudly about another female employee and her boyfriend on the trading room floor, saying: “If I knew I could look like that and have sex with someone who looked like her, I would never go to the gym. She’s model hot. I’d like a photo of her. I can’t believe she has sex with someone like him. He must be really rich.” The next day, according to the complaint, the female employee had a panic attack on her way to work.
According to the complaint, when Robb complained about Brown’s behavior to a manager, she was almost immediately called into a meeting with Advent founder and president Tracy Maitland, who allegedly dismissed the behavior as “locker room talk” and accused her of “making some things into a bigger deal than they needed to be.” When Robb expounded on the difficulties facing women at Advent, Matiland allegedly responded: “What do you want me to do? Hire more women? They just end up leaving to take care of kids!”
Robb also claims women at the company were often expected to complete menial tasks, like cleaning and scheduling, that their male counterparts were not. The complaint claims she was often asked to clean up conference rooms after meetings and make restaurant reservations for her boss—something similarly situated male employees were not asked to do.
In April 2017, shortly after Robb started complaining about the unequal treatment, she became subject to increased scrutiny from her supervisor, who insisted on reviewing all of her work before it was sent out, she claims. (Around this time, she says a trader told her the other male employees were thinking of downgrading her “marry, fuck, kill” status to “kill.”) On May 24—one day after she complained to her manager that she was being retaliated against—Robb was fired, allegedly because her managers deemed her a “poor company fit.”
But the saga did not end after she left. That summer, when Robb informed Advent she planned to file a gender discrimiation complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the company responded by saying it planned to file a lawsuit against her for “theft of corporate property and numerous breaches of her contractual and fiduciary obligations as an Advent employee.” Undeterred, Robb filed complaints with the EEOC and the New York City Commission on Human Rights. (Robb’s lawyers later asked for the complaints to be discharged to give her the ability to file a federal suit.)
Advent’s resulting suit, filed in state court in December 2017 and reviewed by The Daily Beast, claims Robb forwarded company emails containing confidential and proprietary information from her work email to her personal email for a period of four months, with the intent of “causing harm to Advent's business and reputation and to benefit herself or Advent's competitors.” The suit also claims Robb has refused to destroy the forwarded information or send her email over to a forensic investigator to certify that she had done so.
Robb strongly denies any allegations of theft. Her complaint claims Advent’s suit was “textbook retaliation” that was intended to “send a message to Advent’s current and future female employees that this is what happens to women at Advent who speak out about discrimination.” Among other things, she claims Advent demanded she pay $20,000 for the forensic inspection of her personal laptop—which could have been avoided if the company had provided her a work laptop to begin with.
“In textbook fashion, Advent has blamed, shamed and victimized Ms. Robb over and over again,” the complaint states. “For more than two and a half years, Advent has engaged in abusive, retaliatory litigation that has exceeded all boundaries of civility.”
Robb is asking for compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive measures aimed at changing the behavior she says she experienced at Advent. She also wants the defendants’ actions ruled illegal under state and city law.