A 33-year veteran Merrill Lynch financial advisor who alleges the wirehouse played favorites has agreed to arbitrate the dispute before seeking a courtroom resolution.
Susan Heuer Bazelides of Houston has alleged Merrill Lynch favored her former practice partner when they split $3 billion in client assets.
Apart from agreeing to go into arbitration, the 70-year-old Heuer also voluntarily dismissed her prior age discrimination claim against Merrill Lynch. She told the court she would exhaust any remedies through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Texas state agencies before pursuing the discrimination claims in court again.
Heuer did not agree to arbitrate or voluntarily dismiss her related malpractice claims against a lawyer and law firm, however. The lawyer and law firm previously represented Heuer and Merrill Lynch in a Finra mediation proceeding involving the dissolution of assets.
Heuer and her former partner, Patricia Wenzel, are both still registered with Merrill Lynch, according to their respective BrokerCheck records.
A Merrill Lynch spokesman declined to comment on the legal battle, which brings to light the benefits of FA teams negotiating and agreeing to dissolution terms that could avoid such claims.
FA claims Merrill “threw her under the bus”
In her lawsuit against Merrill Lynch, Heuer alleges the wirehouse and its lawyers "threw her under the bus" at a previous Finra mediation hearing to resolve a dissolution dispute with her ex-partner. She is claiming breach of contract, common law fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and unlawful civil conspiracy or fraud, among other things, against Merrill Lynch.
Heuer 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's “sole expense.”
"All of [those claims] will now be arbitrated,” Heuer says in a brief filed on February 4 before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division.
Merrill brief says FA brought this on herself
In January, Merrill Lynch denied Heuer’s claims it favored one rep over another during their acrimonious team split and asked the court to toss her lawsuit. In a brief filed on January 3, the wirehouse argues Heuer caused the alleged inequitable treatment she suffered in the settlement.
The “apparent cause” of Heuer’s “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 401(k) plan accounts” to her former partner, according to Merrill Lynch’s brief.
“Stated differently, this entire lawsuit is fueled solely by [Heuer’s] dissatisfaction with her own decisions,” the wirehouse’s lawyers argue.
Heuer’s lawsuit asks the court to decide if she should wait until an arbitration ruling to proceed with her claims against the legal team. That team includes Janell Ahnert, now with the Birmingham, Ala. office of labor law firm Littler Mendelson, and Ahnert’s former firm, Bressler Amery & Ross, where she practiced when she represented Merrill Lynch and Heuer in the previous Finra mediation.
Lawyers argue “buyer’s remorse”
In a brief filed on January 3, Ahnert and Bressler Amery asked the court to toss Heuer’s claims against them. They argue Heuer has “buyer’s remorse” and 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.
Heuer alleges in her lawsuit that Merrill Lynch failed to follow its team dissolution policies and failed to defend her against a lawsuit filed by her ex-partner.
Wenzel, Heuer’s former partner, a 12-year Merrill Lynch and 25-year industry veteran, filed that lawsuit against the wirehouse and Heuer in Texas state court in September 2018. Wenzel alleged that Heuer misled her about their initial team agreement and argued breach of contract; she also made fraud claims against the wirehouse. The Texas court terminated Wenzel’s lawsuit without ruling in favor of any party.
But then Wenzel filed another lawsuit, which is still pending. That second suit against Merrill Lynch and Heuer includes breach of contract claims against both parties; both have denied the allegations.
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