A former senior vice president at Moody’s Investors Service has filed a lawsuit alleging she was fired for airing complaints of gender bias and sexual harassment within the rating agency.
Annelise T. Osborne, a former structured finance analyst on the CMBS team, also charges the company retaliated against her for uncovering an incorrect bond rating in a CMBS transaction that presumably cost several team members and supervisors their bonuses in 2015.
Osborne and employment litigation firm Widgor LLP of New York filed the federal lawsuit Monday in Southern District of New York in Manhattan, seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Moody’s has not yet filed a response to the suit, but the company issued a statement Wednesday asserting the “allegations in the complaint are entirely without merit and we are confident that we will prevail.”
Osborne was fired from Moody’s in November 2015, shortly after she had applied for an external board position with the Ethan Allen Interiors furniture company. Osborne claims in the lawsuit this was a pretext for her “unlawful” termination that was instead based on her blowing the whistle on the bond rating as well as airing complaints of “grossly inappropriate” behavior of colleagues and supervisors.
A Moody’s source familiar with the case disputed that scenario, instead claiming that it was her application for the board position with Ethan Allen was the cause of her firing. The company maintains Osborne violated the firm’s requirements for employees to receive prior permission for external company jobs.
Not disclosed in the lawsuit was that she was among six candidates nominated to the board by Sandell Asset Management Corp. in what was an unsuccessful hostile takeover of the furniture maker that fall.
The Wall Street Journal cited an unnamed source at that time stating that Ethan Allen had informed Moody’s of Osborne’s potential conflict of interest because of ongoing discussions to engage Moody’s in rating the company’s debt securities. (Moody’s carries a ‘Ba2’ rating of parent Ethan Allen Global Inc.).
Renan Varghese, an attorney for Osborne, said she was not fired for violating Moody’s policies on external employment pursuits, but for raising objections “to the fraud she exposed at the company,” and exposing in complaints to supervisors the manner in which female employees are treated.
“Our firm is committed to ensuring that all the wrongdoers are held responsible for their conduct,” he said.
In the suit, Osborne said she and other women at Moody’s were consistently “victimized” by systemic discrimination across the agency that denied them promotions, paid them less than male peers and subjected them to sexual harassment from colleagues and supervisors. Women told Osborne they had dealt with “grossly inappropriate comments” and a male group leader who would “openly leer” at female workers, Osborne’s suit claims.
Moody’s asserted in its statement it does “not tolerate unlawful discrimination of any kind.”