How we helped a NYC banking sales star transform her vengeful rage into a successful exit, in a case combining promotional pass-over, unvested stocks and non-compete
I gave my all to the bank; that promotion was mine! I felt so violated!”
Hell hath no fury like an employee scorned – and Rachel was livid. She was passed over to run her department at the bank where she’d been top earner in financing mid-market technology firms. Her driven, extroverted personality helped her forge many lucrative client relationships in New York City over the eight years she worked at the large bank.
Rachel, in her early 30s, loved her job and knew she was good at it, quickly scaling the earnings ladder. Ambitious, she was excited when her older male boss announced his plan to retire. “I knew I was the right person to become department head,” she recalls.
But the bank didn’t even interview her; they hired an outsider – another older man.
Rachel was in shock; she’d burnt the midnight oil year after year to win clients. She felt lucky most evenings if she had time to take her bulldog for a walk around the block. Then salt was added to the wound when her new boss started on the job.
“He talked down to me in front of coworkers,” says Rachel. “He called me a young girl who’s not ready to manage.” She’d long felt her age, gender and looks were a liability at work. Pretty and curvy, Rachel liked to wear form-fitting Saks Fifth Avenue dresses rather than conventional banking suits. Male coworkers and managers leering at, and remarking on, her body were part of the work culture she despised and tried to ignore. (The bank is run predominantly by men who started their careers in the ‘70s and ‘80s.)
Rachel put up with all of it – until she didn’t get that promotion. Seething in her office, screaming in her car and condo, venting with friends at local water holes, she vowed to get back at the bank. (Ever see the movie, “Kill Bill”?)
But Rachel did not stage a dramatic exit or bloody rampage; she couldn’t afford to decry ‘take this job and shove it.” Afterall, upon quitting she was subject to a situation common in banking, facetiously referred to as “golden handcuffs.” Rachel earned yearly bonuses equal to or greater than her 400K salary, but they were not all paid upfront; they were “stock vested in time.” So a 400K bonus was parsed out in 100K in cash upfront, and the remaining 300K in stock spread equally over three years.
Rachel’s had accrued a lot of unvested equity over eight years – all of which she would lose were she to leave the bank. (Even her bonus for 2017.)
“Failure to Promote” Hard to Win
But Rachel was getting out. As soon as possible. And she wasn’t going to make it easy for the bank. She decided to sue them. Rachel called Ottinger Law, on the warpath, and presented her case to us.
“I was treated like dirt, I was betrayed,” she almost shouted into the phone. We invited her to our New York office and let her vent (for a bit), pacing the boardroom, fists clenched, face flushed.
Then we dropped advice she definitely didn’t like. “’’Failure to promote’” cases are very difficult to win,” we told Rachel. “And the bank never said or did anything that proves age or gender discrimination.” (Any slights were subtle or hidden.) Furthermore, we said, if Rachel sued, her name would be out in public and other banks might see her as a troublemaker and avoid hiring her.
Naturally, Rachel took that pretty seriously, and got all strategic with us. She wouldn’t sue, but she’d leave the bank – on her terms.
We reached out to her employers to discuss alternatives to the unvested-stock loss. No way, was the bank’s response. If Rachel leaves, she gets no bonus, no stock; tough luck.
Rage swept over Rachel again, this time coupled with fear and anxiety – so much that she took a week off work, using vacation days, and holed up at home. She didn’t want to see anyone or go anywhere. She was so upset sometimes she couldn’t discuss the case with us on the phone.
Still she hung on – over the tense weeks as we negotiated her exit. We asked the bank, “how do you expect Rachel to take such a big loss?” They had no good answer for that.
We kept asking the bank the same thing in different ways. “Can you do anything to make this easier?” we asked. Eventually, we convinced them to pay her the full 2017 bonus in cash (400K) and allow some of her unvested equity to vest. Rachel still lost money, but it was a good deal. She turned in her resignation.
Rachel also had a non-compete agreement that prevented her from working for other banks for a year after leaving. In our negotiations, we got the bank to agree to let her out of the non-compete. Rachel found a job with another bank right away.
In the end, we helped Rachel minimize her loses as she cut loose from an employer she no longer respected or felt respected by. It was, no doubt, a tricky case – one we learned from as lawyers (which we love!).
What started as an emotional pressure-cooker with much at risk – both in reputation as well as financially – ended with Rachel’s pride intact. Well, largely so… maybe a little bruised.
*not her real name