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Goldman Sachs vice president alleges gender discrimination after losing job while on maternity leave

Goldman Sachs vice president alleges gender discrimination after losing job while on maternity leave
The logo for Goldman Sachs appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (Richard Drew / AP)

Two years ago, Tania Mirchandani, a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. vice president in Los Angeles, told her boss she was pregnant with her third child. He was skeptical she could balance a large family with her demanding job, she recalled. That’s “a lot of mouths to feed,” she quoted him as saying.

Mirchandani, a 15-year Goldman Sachs veteran, figured that her supervisor, of all people, would have understood her dilemma. John Mallory, then a Goldman partner and rising star overseeing wealth management for the West Coast, had four children of his own.

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In October 2016, weeks before she was scheduled to return, Mallory called her with some bad news: She was out of a job. “I’m on maternity leave, John,’’ she remembered telling him, as she fought back tears.

Mirchandani detailed her dismissal in a 2017 gender discrimination complaint against Goldman — a document only recently disclosed through a public-records request to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Mallory referred questions to Goldman, which denied any bias in her dismissal. Spokesman Michael DuVally said she had been terminated “for strategic business planning reasons” that had nothing to do with her pregnancy or leave. As part of a review of the company’s private wealth management business, male managers also lost their jobs, he said.

“Goldman Sachs is committed to supporting employees who are new parents, and takes its obligations and the laws relating to them very seriously,” DuVally said in an email.

In her complaint and an interview with Bloomberg, Mirchandani alleged that she lost her job because she took Goldman’s entire four-month paid family leave. In an arbitration proceeding still pending before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, she is seeking more than $1.5 million in damages.

The dispute reflects a tension in corporate America, especially on Wall Street. Goldman and other elite companies promote more generous family-friendly policies as part of widely publicized diversity initiatives considered essential to attracting talent.

Yet, for all these efforts, only a quarter of a million women take paid maternity leave each month, a level that has remained essentially unchanged since the 1990s, according to a 2017 study by Boston University business school professor Jay Zagorsky. That figure may indicate that women avoid taking leaves for fear of damaging their careers, he said. U.S. companies continue to face thousands of pregnancy discrimination claims each year, according to federal data.

Even if women do come back to work, “very often they aren’t returned to the same position,” said Cara Greene, an employment lawyer at Outten & Golden. “They aren’t given back their accounts or clients.”

Greene’s firm represents women in a class-action gender bias lawsuit against Goldman that is still being fought after a complaint was first filed 13 years ago. Plaintiffs say they too faced reprisals when they resumed work after maternity leave: One claimed that Goldman stripped her of accounts, while the other said the company passed her up for a promotion.

In 2010, Goldman settled a lawsuit brought by Charlotte Hanna, a former vice president who said she was pushed onto the “mommy-track” after returning from her first pregnancy and then dismissed a week before coming back after having her second child. In both the class-action and Hanna lawsuits, Goldman denied the allegations.

Mirchandani first learned about Goldman when she won an investment banking competition sponsored by the company during her junior year at UC Berkeley. She started as a Goldman analyst in the late 1990s, leaving in 2003 to earn an MBA at UCLA before returning to Goldman two years later. She said she managed $300 million for a dozen clients. During her time at the firm, Goldman tapped her to recruit job candidates.

Mallory had also joined Goldman in the 1990s after working several years at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. He was known for his close relationship with the Steinbrenner family, which owns the New York Yankees. In 2007, he helped renegotiate star Alex Rodriguez’s $275 million contract.

While they ended up in the same line of work, their home lives differ greatly. Mirchandani’s husband, Dinesh, works full time. He is chief financial officer of BandMerch, which provides merchandising for musicians. Mallory’s wife, Tracy, quit her career in finance in her 20s, she wrote in a post on the website of her alma mater, Dartmouth College. She described herself as “CEO, COO, logistics coordinator, driver, chef and therapist for Mallory Family Inc.’’

At work, Mirchandani said in an interview, she had difficulty connecting with Mallory. He would organize outings, which included sporting events and drinks, that excluded female advisors, she said. “If you didn’t know sports, it didn’t work with him,” she said.

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In 2013, Mirchandani said in an interview, she returned from maternity leave after her first child and discovered that her male partner no longer wanted to work with her. She asked Mallory if she could work with other teams, but he left her on her own, she said.

Two years later, while expecting her second child, she had cultivated a relationship with a wealthy Indian family that had yet to commit to Goldman. She felt she had a special bond because her mother, an architect, and her father, a real estate entrepreneur, were from India.

When she returned from leave, Mallory told her the account had been assigned to the team of a male advisor who had met with the Indian family while she was out, she said in the interview. The family’s chief financial officer then insisted she be involved, though she received only 20 percent of commissions, she said. “Decisions about team assignments within the office or client relationships are driven only by performance,” said DuVally, the Goldman spokesman.

Mirchandani said Goldman allowed maternity leave, then expected women to have the same pipeline of business immediately on their return. “Come back from four months and, a week later, it is like ‘what are you doing for me,’” she said. In her state complaint, she claimed it was “standard practice” for Goldman to pressure women to keep their leaves as short as possible.

Goldman denied any such pressure. The company’s policies — 16 weeks of paid leave to primary caregivers, both natural and adopting parents — “are explicitly designed” to support new parents, DuVally said. The company also structures pay to help returning parents, maintaining commission-based compensation during the leave and for months before and after, he said.

When Mallory called to dismiss Mirchandani in 2016, he alluded to issues he had with her performance, even though there were no prior warnings, she said in an interview. But she claims she was the only person cut in the Los Angeles office, and that she knows of male advisors who kept their jobs even though they had performed worse than she did.

DuVally said Goldman “denies that Ms. Mirchandani was terminated for any other reason than strategic business planning reasons.”

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Since she left Goldman, her fortunes and Mallory’s continued to diverge. Mirchandani, 41, has had trouble finding another job in finance and now works for her family’s real estate business. In April, Mallory, 48, won a promotion at Goldman. He now oversees wealth management for the entire U.S. and Latin America.

Willmer writes for Bloomberg.

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