Wirehouse UBS asked a federal court this week to throw out a lawsuit alleging retaliation against a former employee after his daughter claimed workplace harassment.
The suit was filed by former employee James Simmons based on allegations that the wirehouse retaliated against him because his daughter, a former UBS FA, pursued a pregnancy discrimination claim against the firm.
The litigation throws into high relief the rights of FAs to take maternity and paternity leave without concerns about losing clout or remuneration at work. It also underscores the legally fraught waters for wirehouses when it comes to handling leave issues.
In his lawsuit, Simmons alleges UBS retaliated after his daughter Jo Simmons Aldridge — who worked at UBS as an FA from 2011 to 2016 — filed her pregnancy discrimination claim against the wirehouse.
In recent years, wirehouses and their parent companies have updated their parental leave policies, giving more generous time off for parents and, at least at first glance, making them gender neutral, as FA-IQ has previously reported.
But litigation related to pregnancy and parental leave has persisted. This summer, JPMorgan Chase offered a $5 million settlement to plaintiffs who had alleged the bank had gender-biased policies against men because its policies in effect offered them less parental leave than mothers — 11 weeks less, until the bank revised its policies in 2016.
In his lawsuit, Simmons alleges that after he stopped working for UBS in 2015, he continued to meet with its clients in the wirehouse’s Houston offices to sell them his wares as a third-party wholesale vendor of insurance products.
In December 2015, Simmons alleges his daughter Aldridge filed her pregnancy discrimination complaint against the wirehouse with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The next year, while Aldridge was on maternity leave, Simmons visited UBS’ Houston location as a third-party wholesale vendor and noticed that her designated office “had been emptied and that her nameplate had been removed,” according to his lawsuit.
“He reported this to his daughter,” Simmons’ lawsuit states. It was at this point “UBS began to take adverse actions against Mr. Simmons,” his lawsuit alleges.
The manager of the Houston office falsely accused him of taking photos in the office, Simmons’ lawsuit alleges. UBS also began restricting his access to a lobby conference room unless accompanied by a UBS FA, even though such limitations did not apply to other third-party wholesalers, Simmons’ lawsuit alleges.
A UBS spokesperson declined to comment on the litigation and referred to the wirehouse’s new brief, filed Dec. 11, asking the court to toss the lawsuit.
In that brief, UBS lawyers argue that Simmons was not an employee or job applicant during the relevant time period. Therefore, he is barred by legal precedents from filing a discrimination claim under the federal civil rights laws, the UBS lawyers argue.
The wirehouse’s lawyers also counter that Simmons’ first alleged retaliatory actions — when a manager told him to not take photos of his daughter’s empty office — ”took place four to five months after his daughter’s protected activity, and consisted of simple admonishments.” The request by the manager that Simmons not take photos was “hardly materially adverse actions,” UBS lawyers argue.
In the summer of 2016, UBS “apparently instructed” Simmons’ new employer, Houston-based Prelle Financial, that it did not want Simmons to continue working in its offices in any capacity, Simmons’ lawsuit alleges.
Simmons named Prelle as a co-defendant in his lawsuit, alleging the firm also retaliated against him, acting on UBS’ behalf by effectively ending his employment based on allegations that he had made a “ticketing error” when selling insurance to UBS clients.
On Nov. 4, Prelle filed an answer to Simmons’ lawsuit denying the allegations.
According to Simmons’ lawsuit, UBS’ instructions to Prelle caused his “pipeline of new business to dry up.”
Although UBS later argued “that its instruction was a result of a review of existing vendors” and a determination that Simmons failed to meet “performance needs,” that explanation amounted to “a transparent pretext for retaliation and not a legitimate basis for the decision,” according to Simmons’ lawsuit.
In UBS’ brief, however, the wirehouse’s lawyers argue Simmons’ allegations about how UBS and Prelle treated him “are a series of events that occurred six to 14 months after Simmons’s daughter’s protected activity.” That time period “is too large a gap for the temporal proximity to serve as evidence that the alleged adverse actions were causally related to the protected activity,” the UBS lawyers add.
Aldridge and UBS ultimately settled her claim, according to the father’s lawsuit. Aldridge now works as an investment advisor at Houston-based Northwest Asset Management.