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Point72 gender-discrimination lawsuit moves to arbitration

October 2, 2018

The executive suing Point72 Asset Management for alleged gender discrimination and the Stamford-based firm have agreed to have her case dismissed in court and decided by a private arbitrator, according to documents filed in the past week.

Since Point72 Associate Director Lauren Bonner filed the lawsuit last February in federal court in New York state, lawyers for the two sides have argued about the venue for the complaint. Point72 had sought to move the case to arbitration — an out-of-court framework for settling employment disputes — arguing it was accounted for in arbitration provisions in Bonner’s contract. Bonner’s attorneys had responded that the suit should stay in court, asserting that her claims were covered by a number of federal and state laws.

Messages left Tuesday for lawyers of Bonner and a Point72 spokesman were not immediately returned.

Accepting arbitration counters Bonner’s attorneys’ previous position opposing that outcome.

“Point72 cannot silence Lauren Bonner before her claims reach a jury,” Bonner’s lawyers, Jeanne Christensen and Michael Willemin, said in a statement in March. “We look forward to vindicating Ms. Bonner’s rights publicly in courtrooms, not in the concealed sanctuary of arbitration.”

The agreement also obviates a judge’s order in July for the American Arbitration Association to rule whether arbitration proceedings should be enacted to hear the case.

Bonner’s lawsuit represents one of the most prominent of its kind to be filed against a major finance firm. But the industrywide impact of the case being arbitrated could be difficult to judge, said some legal experts.

“If there are employees who believe they would be joining a firm where sex discrimination would be a significant risk, they would probably self-select out of those firms and not apply,” said Robert Bird, a professor of business law at the University of Connecticut. “So, I don’t know if the #MeToo movement has yet been able to influence employment-contract negotiations because of that self-selection effect.”

Bonner’s lawsuit described Point72 as a hostile and abusive environment in which women are frequently harassed and belittled.

Female employees at times earn 50 cents for every dollar made by their male colleagues, and they are routinely overlooked or denied opportunities to progress while male counterparts with equal or fewer credential advance, the suit alleged.

Point72 has denied the allegations.

The lawsuit also reported that women accounted for only 8 percent of investment professionals — a category that includes portfolio managers, analysts and traders. The number of women who were portfolio managers comprised “a small fraction of the 8 percent,” a Point72 spokesman said last year.

Point72 officials have said the firm is working to increase the number of women hires.

Women accounted for 30 percent of the acceptances in Point72’s 2018 summer internship program, up from 20 percent last year, according to data shared by the firm. Those internships underpin recruitment efforts because they also generate the majority of full-time hires through the firm’s training academy.

Several management shifts have followed the filing of the lawsuit. Then-President Doug Haynes, who was named as a defendant and had served as president since Point72’s 2014 founding, resigned in March.

Female employees openly shared the view that as long as Haynes served as president, “women will be paid less,” the complaint said.

After Haynes left, Cohen took over as president, adding to his existing roles as CEO and co-chief investment officer. Cohen is named as a defendant in the complaint, but not personally accused of misconduct.

In a March memo to employees, Cohen said the firm’s transitional period marked a “natural point to make way for a new, different type of leader.” Point 72 has moved into hedge fund management after a two-year federal ban related to 2013 insider-trading violations at Cohen’s previous hedge fund, SAC Capital Advisors.

The firm employs about 500 at its headquarters at 72 Cummings Point Road, in Stamford’s Waterside section.

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

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