Merrill Lynch has rejected claims it favored one rep over another during their acrimonious team split.
The wirehouse has asked a federal court to toss lawsuit filed by the Forbes top-ranked FA.
The advisor claims the wirehouse and its outside lawyers "threw her under the bus" at a Finra hearing. The hearing was called to resolve a dissolution dispute with her ex-partner in a $3 billion Houston-based team.
In a brief filed Jan. 3, Merrill Lynch argues that the FA herself caused whatever alleged inequitable treatment she suffered in the settlement.
The “apparent cause” of Susan Heuer Bazelides' “after-the-fact heartburn” with her resolution pact “is that she — without any guidance from Merrill Lynch or its counsel — agreed to the reassignment of certain 401k plan accounts” to her former partner, according to Merrill Lynch’s new brief.
“Stated differently, this entire lawsuit is fueled solely by [Heuer Bazelides’] dissatisfaction with her own decisions,” the wirehouse’s lawyers argue as the reason the suit should be tossed.
A Merrill Lynch spokesperson says the wirehouse would not have any "further comment" beyond the arguments in its brief.
The acrimony in Merrill Lynch’s motion, which echoes similarly angry sentiments in Heuer Bazelides’ preceding lawsuit, underscores for all FA teams the importance of negotiating dissolution terms on which all members wholeheartedly agree.
Heuer Bazelides’ lawsuit also named as a defendant Janell Ahnert, now with the Birmingham, Ala. office of labor law firm Littler Mendelson. Specifically, Heuer Bazelides’ lawsuit named Ahnert and her former firm, Bressler Amery & Ross, where she practiced when she represented Merrill Lynch and Heuer Bazelides in the Finra hearing.
In a separate brief, filed Jan. 3, Ahnert and Bressler Amery also ask the court to toss Heuer Bazelides’ claims against them. The lawyer and the law firm’s brief argues that Heuer Bazelides expresses only “buyer’s remorse” and that her claims “are entirely frivolous and are a complete fabrication of the facts in an attempt … to make up the difference of what she supposedly ‘lost’ from her voluntary settlement agreement” with her former partner.
A 32-year Merrill Lynch veteran, 70-year-old Heuer Bazelides still works at the wirehouse, according to BrokerCheck. She alleges in her lawsuit that the wirehouse failed to follow its team dissolution policies and to defend her against the allegations that her ex-partner, Patricia Wenzel, also a Merrill Lynch FA, filed against her in Texas state court.
The events embroiling Merrill Lynch and Heuer Bazelides in the litigation began when Wenzel, an eight-year Merrill Lynch and 25-year industry veteran, filed that lawsuit in Texas state court in September 2018.
In her lawsuit, Wenzel named the wirehouse and her former partner as defendants and alleged Heuer Bazelides misled her about their initial team agreement. Wenzel’s claims included breach of contract against Heuer Bazelides and fraud against Heuer Bazelides and Merrill Lynch.
The Texas court terminated Wenzel's lawsuit without ruling in favor of any party. But then Wenzel filed another lawsuit, which is still pending; the second suit against Merrill Lynch and Heuer Bazelides made breach of contract claims against them both. Both Heuer Bazelides and Merrill Lynch have denied Wenzel’s pending claims.
By November 2018, Merrill Lynch sought to resolve Wenzel’s initial claims at the Finra hearing and, before doing so, entered into a joint defense agreement with Heuer Bazelides. That agreement called for Merrill Lynch’s outside counsel, Ahnert and lawyers from Bressler Amery, to represent Heuer Bazelides at Finra.
Those Finra sessions led to the dispute resolution settlement — which is now the subject of Wenzel and Heuer Bazelides’ separate pending lawsuits.
In its new brief, Merrill Lynch argues that it “entirely funded” the settlement reached as a result of the mediation sessions and that the agreement “extricated [Heuer Bazelides] from potential personal liability for fraud and breach of contract claims.”
But in her lawsuit, Heuer Bazelides alleges Merrill Lynch and its lawyers “bluntly” told her “she would be ‘on her own’" if she did not agree to the mediated settlement agreement.
Her lawsuit argues she had “no alternative but to reluctantly agree” to the settlement, since she was a "layman" of the law. Merrill Lynch’s lawyers' only concern, her lawsuit argues, was to obtain a full release of all [Wenzel’s] claims against the firm at Heuer Bazelides’ “sole expense.”