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Monday, October 22 Business

Point72 hit with discrimination lawsuit

STAMFORD — Point72 Asset Management, the firm that manages the personal fortune of billionaire Steven Cohen, faces a scathing critique of its workplace culture in a new lawsuit from a female executive who alleges that women are routinely harassed and denied equal pay and promotions.

Filed Monday in federal court in New York by Point72 associate director Lauren Bonner, the complaint describes Point72 as a hostile and abusive environment for women, in which male employees comment on female colleagues’ bodies and put down their abilities, and women at times earn less than 50 cents for each dollar made by their male counterparts.

Cohen and Point72 President Doug Haynes are named as defendants, along with the firm as a whole, but Cohen is not personally accused of inappropriate behavior. The complaint seeks an unspecified amount of damages.

“Women should not have to account for why such conduct is wrong in any workplace, and Ms. Bonner is no exception,” Michael Willemin and Jeanne Christensen, partners in Wigdor LLP, the Manhattan-based law firm representing Bonner, said in a statement. “But, as alleged, the male-centric leaders at Point72 opted to operate above the law. We are confident that a jury of Ms. Bonner’s peers will hold Point72 accountable for what we believe is abhorrent conduct that effectively reduces female employees to second-class citizens.”

In a statement, Point72 said it “emphatically denies these allegations and will defend itself in a more appropriate venue than the media.”

The statement also cited the firm’s record in hiring and developing women employees.

“In an industry where women are historically underrepresented, the hundreds of women at Point72 are vital members of every part of our organization,” the statement said. “Our female investment professional workforce exceeds published industry averages — a direct result of our concerted and sustained focus on promoting diversity at Point72.”

Wigdor has taken on a number of high-profile sexual harassment lawsuits in recent years. The firm has filed several complaints against Fox News and also represented a male employee in a complaint two years ago against Westport-based Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund. The latter claim was settled in 2016.

Many allegations

The lawsuit lists a number of accusations against top executives. Haynes is alleged to have allowed last year the word “pussy” to remain on his whiteboard for weeks. Female employees openly shared the view that as long as Haynes served as president, “women will be paid less,” the complaint said.

Chief Operating Officer Tim Shaughnessy allegedly referred to women as “girls” and barred women from events because he said “no girls [are] allowed.”

Among other incidents, the lawsuit alleges Bonner was involved in a conversation at a Point72 fundraiser in which a firm consultant and associate of Cohen used a vulgarity to ask whether a Point72 investment portfolio manager wanted to have sex with a female acquaintance of the consultant.

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Bonner has worked at the firm since July 2016 and runs its Talent Analytics team, with 14 employees reporting to her. She has not been promoted to director, despite achievements such as creating an “industry-leading” technology platform. A committee charged with considering a promotion for Bonner included a managing director who had humiliated and insulted Bonner, the complaint said.

Some committee members criticized Bonner for being too aggressive and abrasive, even though such language is seldom, if ever, used to fault male employees, the lawsuit said.

Only one of Point72’s 125 portfolio managers is a woman, and just one of its approximately 30 managing directors is a woman, according to the lawsuit. Among other panels allegedly lacking gender balance, the suit said none of the firm’s board of advisers is a woman.

In addition, male executives, including current and former portfolio managers, have openly said they will not hire women for their teams, the complaint said. Their alleged reasons include their wives not giving them permission and women being “too emotional” and not team players.

Widespread issues

Hostile work environments in which women feel excluded from gatherings of male colleagues are not uncommon in financial services, according to Lisa Mainiero, a professor of leadership and management at Fairfield University and the author of “Office Romance: Love Sex and Power in the Workplace.”

“It is well known that investment banking and hedge funds are closed circles, and while a token woman may be promoted from time to time, the culture of these firms are largely male-defined,” Mainiero said in an email. “Closet discrimination can take place in many ways, from constant use of pejorative slurs against some, sexual innuendo, or simply not inviting women to deal-making meetings. Often women are not considered on the short list for promotion, become frustrated, and leave.”

The litigation comes as Cohen aims to rebound from a two-year federal ban on investing with outside funds. He is widely believed to be raising capital for a new hedge fund.

After the federal government imposed $1.8 billion in penalties linked to Cohen’s then-hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors’ guilty plea to insider-trading charges, the firm was converted into Point72 in 2014.

Cohen was not charged with wrongdoing, but a 2016 settlement reached with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission prohibited him from supervising third-party funds until 2018.

Headquartered at 72 Cummings Point Road in the city’s Waterside section, Point72 employs about 1,100 worldwide. Several hundred work at the Stamford offices.

pschott@scni.com; 203-964-2236; twitter: @paulschott

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