Sex on the Floor
The hushed-up case of an African American man who claimed that his white female supervisor at the New York Stock Exchange told him that "black men like blondes," then sexually harassed, humiliated, and discriminated against him for complaining, will be decided by a jury.
In August 1999, U.S. district court judge Charles P. Sifton ruled that LeRoy Crawford, 50, had the right to sue the Exchange because it allegedly ignored accusations that Peggy Germino, head of the Qualifications and Registration Department, sexually harassed him after he repeatedly rejected her advances from 1993 to 1995. Crawford was a registration specialist in the department, and his job was to review the applications of traders wishing to become members of the Exchange. While the ruling, stemming from a 1997 complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was not sealed, both sides kept the explosive charges buried as they battled behind the scenes.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin April 18 in federal court in Brooklyn. Attorney Rudolph Silas, who is representing Crawford, said his client is demanding $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million for "special damages as a result of physical and mental injury." (Attempts to reach Germino proved futile.)
NYSE lawyers had argued that no sexual harassment or retaliation took place and asked that the charges be thrown out since "incidents of sexual harassment were not allowed to continue unremedied by the Exchange." But in the 45-page ruling, obtained by the Voice, Judge Sifton concluded that "evidence suggests that Ms. Germino persistently made sexual advances or sexual comments to [Crawford] and that, far from ceasing her conduct when she saw that it bothered [him], continued in an effort to degrade him." Crawford's charges, he added, could lead "a reasonable jury [to] conclude that [he] suffered from specific and related acts of discrimination" due to the alleged sexual harassment, which made him "uncomfortable."
Lawsuits in which a man accuses a woman of sexual harassment are very rareand even more unusual when the accuser is black and the alleged harasser is white. According to the ruling, Crawford claimed in a deposition that from 1993 to 1995, while he was training with Germino, she "would wait until she was alone with [him] and rub her legs or her breasts up against [him]." When Crawford, who is married and has a daughter, objected and shied away, the bullish Germino "would ask whether [he] was uncomfortable with what she was doing." Sometimes, he stated, Germino would "run her hands up her skirt, partially exposing herself" to him. The supervisor's seductive behavior allegedly attracted the attention of one of Crawford's co-workers, who told her on one occasion that she was exposing her legs. "It's nothing anyone hasn't seen before," Germino reportedly responded.
Between 1994 and 1995, Germino allegedly began to ask Crawford about several women she had seen him talking to outside of the Exchange. "[Crawford] took this to mean that she was jealous of [his] attention to other women," the judge said. Crawford alleged that during another encounter, Germino, while (in the judge's words) "fluffing her blonde hair," declared, "Black men like blondes." Still Crawford said he resisted. Then, according to Crawford, Germino "questioned his manhood," telling him, "Lee, why don't you just grow up and act like a man." In December 1995, he said Germino gave him a bottle of Avon cologne as a Christmas gift and told him "if there were mistletoe, she would give him a kiss."
The alleged sexual harassment continued through 1996. Crawford claimed that one day while walking to a meeting at Merrill Lynch, Germino commented that "the two of them looked good together." Later that year, he charged, as they went to check out a condominium across the street from the Exchange, Germino suggested that they "pose as husband and wife." He asserted that her behavior grew more erratic. When she asked him to lend her $100, he said, "upon receiving the money, [she] placed it in her cleavage."
As LeRoy Crawford prepared to face Peggy Germino in court, he recalled in an interview with the Voice Germino's alleged attempts to berate him after he spurned her overtures.
"It became clear to me that the more I rejected her sexual advances, the more Ms. Germino made it difficult for me," he said. She began to retaliate, he added, "by requesting that I do personal things for her. She asked me to get her coffee, deliver Avon products, even to make deposits to her personal checking account. She became more possessive and jealous. It got to the point that the only way I could avoid her was to take long walks away from the NYSE area. I would walk as far as Battery Park to avoid the feeling of being stalked by her. After working in the department one year, I tried to [get] out of the department. When she found out, she told me that I could not post for a position without informing her first. I started having difficulty sleeping, and experienced weight loss. I talked to my wife and friends; I felt I had no way out."
The alleged retaliation took many forms as Germino "became angry and hostile toward me." According to the court ruling, Crawford claimed that sometime between 1993 and 1994, Germino ordered him to review the military records of an NYSE applicant "who had been disciplined for having homosexual relations." Inevitably, Crawford said, she began to attack his work performance.
"Ms. Germino took every occasion to publicly harass and harangue me," he charged. "Ms. Germino tried to set me up for work production failures by placing a disproportionate amount of work on me. She verbalized to another female co-worker that she wanted me out of the department."
In the court ruling, Judge Sifton, relying on Crawford's account, noted that in September 1996, Crawford received a "written warning" from Germino for his failure to properly conduct an investigation into an applicant's registration papers. The unnamed trader had checked a box on his registration form indicating that in the past he had been disciplined for violating the laws of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Based on what he described as erroneous information from an intern, Crawford went ahead and approved the application. "[A] review of the disciplinary database revealed that the applicant had been suspended by the American Stock Exchange, and thus should not have been approved," the judge pointed out.
Germino allegedly came down heavily on Crawford, declaring that he had exposed the NYSE to a possible lawsuit. But Crawford viewed the warning letter as a ruse to have him removed from the department. "The letter stated that Ms. Germino had spoken to [Crawford] on several occasions concerning his failure to follow proper procedure and that [Crawford] admitted that he made certain oversights," the judge explained. "The letter advised [him] that further failures to follow Exchange procedures could result in disciplinary action."
As the relationship deteriorated, Germino allegedly told Crawford that he had not been her first choice for the job. She said she had preferred a female for the unit, which was dominated by women. Crawford claimed that he complained to his union representative about the harassment, but was advised only to "watch his back." He received another written warning in April 1997 for allegedly taking four months to investigate an inquiry about an applicant's fingerprints. Germino reportedly cited 60 fingerprint inquiries that languished in "30 to 40 aged files." In addition, Crawford, according to the warning letter, "failed" to notice that several open investigations into applicants' backgrounds would have disqualified them from becoming members. He said Germino gave him six months to bone up his work performance, adding that failing to do so would subject him to disciplinary action and dismissal.
Judge Sifton highlighted Crawford's defense, indicating that Crawford admitted to delays in processing about 40 applications not the 60 that Germino insisted were part of the backlog. "[Crawford] states that he had fallen behind in his work because the unit was short-staffed and that during several periods from 1995 to 1997 he was the only full-time employee in the unit," the judge elaborated. "[Crawford] also states that Ms. Germino did not allow him to work overtime, but allowed his Hispanic female co-workers to do this." He added that Crawford complained that "Ms. Germino behaved in a gracious manner toward the female employees but that she was curt and harsh in her behavior toward him."
Crawford angrily told the Voice: "She issued two written warnings without producing any proof of poor performance. She went so far to fabricate a sequence of events that I was supposedly responsible for creating on a day that I was on vacation. She was furious that I had actually turned her advances down." Crawford maintained in his deposition that he was "unaware of any grievance procedure" while he was at the NYSE. But later he complained to Joseph Bailey, vice president of Sales Practice Review. He said he told Bailey that if the harassment and discrimination continued, he would file formal charges against Germino. No action was taken, according to Crawford.
Crawford then filed a complaint with the NYSE's Human Resources Department. Again, he insisted, "no action was taken nor was any attempt made to remove me through a transfer to another department from a situation that was obviously escalating." As for Germino, Crawford charged, she "continued to verbally attack, harass, and discriminate against me. I felt I had no other recourse than to take my complaint to the highest level available to me." So in May 1997, Crawford wrote a letter to Richard Grasso, chairman of the Exchange. "Mr. Grasso never responded to my direct appeal for assistance," Crawford claimed. "[But] Ms. Germino was invited to a meeting [with Grasso], presumably to discuss this matter. After the meeting, Ms. Germino verbally attacked me. The attack was much more vicious than her prior attacks. Ms. Germino's attack was loud, vicious, and public."
Judge Sifton also documented the effects of the alleged abuse on Crawford. In May 1997, "[Crawford] stated that [Germino's] berating of him caused him chest pains and shortness of breath. He sat down in his cubicle and did not go to lunch because of this condition. At 12:45 p.m., he asked Ms. Germino if he could visit the Exchange's medical facilities, and continued to complain of chest pains. He was taken to the emergency room at New York Downtown Hospital and was given a nitroglycerin tablet and an electrocardiogram."
After that episode, Crawford said that upon the advice of doctors, he never returned to his job. "I have subsequently required follow-up treatment for post-traumatic stress syndrome, and I am currently under a physician's care," he told the Voice. "I still experience the effects of depression and extreme anxiety."
LeRoy Crawford is no crusader against Wall Street. But he is aware of the impact a favorable verdict might have on other potential lawsuits alleging racial discrimination in hallowed halls like the New York Stock Exchange.
"As an African American man, I had grown accustomed to the subtle slights and indignities thrown my way," said Crawford, who started as a page on the trading floor in 1988. "Nothing, however, prepared me for the blatant and direct racism that I was confronted with at the New York Stock Exchange. This proved to be the worst experience of racism I had ever encountered."
As a page, Crawford's primary job was to hand-deliver written orders to and from the booths where member traders were locked in communication with various brokerage houses.
"The atmosphere on the floor was usually high-energy and extremely stressful," he recalled. "But what made it even more difficult for African Americans was the pervasive atmosphere of blatant discrimination and racism that was tolerated and accepted as normal. African American people were made to know their 'place.' African American people were there to serve. You can count the number of African American members on two hands. Many times while I was standing on the trading floor I would hear white members making racial slurs about African Americans. It was as if we were invisible. This attitude was allowed to continue because the message that filtered down from the highest level of the NYSE management was that the members could do and say anything that they wanted."
There was nothing the pages could do about blatant racism masquerading as arrogance. "The members did not care that there were African American people within earshot of them," Crawford claimed. "All of the African American pages knew that the NYSE management would not take action against a member for racist remarks. It just was not done. We were expected to just take it. My stomach would twist and knot as I heard these comments. African Americans were referred to as 'jungle-monkey niggers.' The men were called 'boy.' There was no end to stereotypical jokes that linked us to watermelons. There were also jokes about African American features, such as our 'plate lips.' African American women had 'big asses.' "
A disillusioned Crawford did everything he could to escape the alleged racism. "My goal, though, was to get off the trading floor," he said. "I had lost all interest in going to a firm once I saw firsthand the racism in the brokerage houses. Little did I know then that I would be trading off one form of discrimination for another form of discrimination and harassment."
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