Six Women Sue Wall Street Bank, Alleging Sex Discrimination

Six female employees at the Wall Street bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein Securities LLC are trying to break the proverbial glass ceiling with a $1.4 billion sex discrimination lawsuit.

In their lawsuit, the women said they were subjected to "Animal House"-like antics, passed over for promotions, and generally treated as second-class citizens at the firm. Now, they say they're coming forward in hopes of paving a new way for their daughters and the next generation of women climbing the corporate ladder.

"I felt more and more marginalized at work," said one of the plaintiffs, Jyoti Ruta, 35, who has a 3-year-old daughter and is eight months pregnant with her second child. "I kept thinking: 'Well, if I just work harder, it will get better.' But it didn't. Then one day I came home from work and looked into my daughter's eyes and thought, 'I don't want this to ever happen to you.'"

The women, who filed the suit on Jan. 9, say they have been constantly alienated at work. Some said they were excluded from outings with clients because their male colleagues took them to strip clubs. Others said their supervisors saw prostitutes during lunch hours.

'Marginalized' by an Old Boys' Club

Ruta and two other women said that after they returned from maternity leave, they were removed from challenging cases and "marginalized" while men with lesser credentials -- and who had not taken time off for parental leave -- were given the "plum assignments." The $1.4 billion they seek represents the money they say they lost in wages, promotions and raises not awarded, and punitive damages. The sum will also cover the damages other women may seek if the suit is approved as a class action.

"The proof is in the numbers," said the women's attorney Doug Wigdor. "Under 2 percent of the managing directors at the bank are women."

Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein Securities LLC denied the allegations in a statement.

"These spurious allegations which are without foundation are categorically and unequivocally denied," the statement says. "This suit represents a baseless attempt to damage our reputation and the allegations are contrary to everything for which this company stands. We will bring to bear all necessary resources to defend and protect our employees and our reputation."

For women like bank vice president Kathleen Treglia, her work experience has been a rude awakening to the inequities she says still exist in corporate America.

"I was always taught to be who you are and be the best you could be," said the 46-year-old mother of two. "For me, that meant Wall Street. I was the only woman in an all-male engineering school, and it felt natural for me to be on the trading floor. I fit right in."

Seeking Class-Action Status

Currently, the "Dresdner Six" are seeking class-action status, which will be determined by a judge in the coming weeks. If the move is OK'd, more than 500 current and former female employees will be eligible to collect from the company.

Wigdor, the women's attorney, said he hoped the sexual discrimination case would push corporate America to be more tolerant and sensitive toward women.

"This is the last vestige of gender discrimination, and it's important that they're not degraded this way in the workplace," he said. "We're not asking for special treatment. This isn't an affirmative action lawsuit. We're asking for equal treatment."