Ameriprise ex-partner Stephanie Henninger takes legal action against the company
A former associate client registered for one of the largest wealth managers alleges that two financial advisers sexually harassed her and the company retaliated against her for reporting it.
Stephanie Henninger accuses Ameriprise of a hostile work environment due to the conduct of Advisors Michael S. Maher and Stephen M. Waite II and unlawful retaliation, including demotion to receptionist and compliance officer, according to the case filed April 30 in Somerset County Court in New Jersey. . On June 8, the case was referred to federal court because of alleged damages likely to be over $ 75,000 and the presence of interstate parties, according to the latest documents filed.
The civil case came the same month a former financial advisor to Edward Jones filed a complaint alleging that another registered representative there acting as her trainer sexually harassed her. In addition to the fact that only 18% of advisers are women, many professional women in the industry have accused the male-dominated culture of promote harassment and sexual abuse who often gets trained in private arbitration which favors men.
In Henninger’s case involving an office in Bedminster, New Jersey, between April 2016 and October 2019, she says Maher and Waite made obscene comments and Maher touched the arms, backs and waists of the employees and continued to do so even after complaining to management.
“The conduct was serious or intrusive enough to make a reasonable woman believe that the terms of employment were changed and that the work environment was intimidating, hostile or abusive,” the complaint states. “The defendants knew or should have known that the conduct was harassing and discriminatory and did not take effective corrective action to stop it or prevent the harassment from occurring.”
In sum, the document continues, Ameriprise “acted in a manner blatant, malicious, without cause or willfully in disregard” of Henninger’s rights under the state’s anti-discrimination law. The lawsuit was first reported by the website IQ Financial Advisor.
“We take any allegation of harassment very seriously,” Ameriprise spokesperson Kathleen McClung said in an emailed statement. “When Ms. Henninger shared her initial concerns with us, we investigated them and took appropriate action. She then filed a complaint making new claims that we believe to be unfounded. To be clear, the conduct as described in the lawsuit is completely at odds with our culture and values as a company. “
Maher and Waite, who are still registered with Ameriprise on FINRA BrokerCheck and working at their respective branches in Bedminster and Center Valley, Pa., Did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations. Henninger’s lawyers also did not respond to inquiries.
Citing the fact that he is based in Minnesota and Delaware, Henninger is a resident of Pennsylvania, and the fact that the alleged damages are likely to be substantial even if not explicitly stated, Ameriprise filed the notice referral to federal district court this week. .
Henninger first worked for Maher in 2016. She alleges that her inappropriate and “sexually harassing” conduct began early in her tenure and continued, although she reported it to the branch manager and to COOs, until she was reassigned in December 2018. In one episode that year, he “pulled his pants tight against her groin, revealing a bulge” and asked her if she thought so. that it made his pants tighter, according to the lawsuit.
Another time, he told her “one of his former male colleagues asked him, ‘How’s your nice little assistant ass?’ “, in reference to [Henninger] and showing [her] a text where the colleague asked for a photo of her, ”indicates the trial.
Her managers then moved her into a supporting role for Waite, according to the document. He took her to lunch and told her he was considering “having her pose in her father’s blue Lamborghini as a photo for his Ameriprise website.” Waite also showed him a photo from an auto show of a couple he described as swingers, with the man groping the woman, Henninger alleges in the lawsuit.
An official’s “nonchalant” response to her complaint and previous incidents caused her “severe mental and emotional stress” to the point that she developed depression and took leave in July 2019, the document said. In September of the same year, she entered a partial hospitalization program to receive treatment for five weeks, according to the lawsuit.
While company officials said they had “treated” Maher and “addressed [her] concerns “about Waite, their October 2019 appointment as receptionist and compliance officer at Bedminster” was in fact a demotion, “the lawsuit says. The week after they informed her that she would be working in the same office as Waite with no eligibility for “cut-off” bonuses paid to clients’ partners, Henninger resigned from the firm, according to the document.
Henninger is no longer registered with any wealth manager after a 10-year tenure in financial services that included three other previous companies, according to BrokerCheck. His lawyers served Ameriprise with the two-count complaint on May 10, according to the referral notice. Ameriprise did not admit any of the allegations in Henninger’s complaint about the change of location. District Judge Michael Shipp and Magistrate Judge Tonianne Bongiovanni are overseeing the case.