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Promoting Women's Rights on Wall Street

By Partnership for Public Service

Elizabeth Grossman - Acting Regional Attorney U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Most often, people tend to view the federal government as Goliath. But the reality is that government is not monolithic and is largely made up of a bunch of Davids trying to cast stones against injustice. One of those stone-throwers is Elizabeth Grossman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and she's got an arm that would make George Steinbrenner drool. Ms. Grossman represents victims of discrimination, and she has taken on her share of giants, including Woolworth's, TWA and Bell Atlantic. But she made history when she tackled Morgan Stanley.

Working with a small 7-member legal team and on behalf of more than 300 current and former female employees of Morgan Stanley, Ms. Grossman filed a sexual discrimination suit against the Wall Street giant in September 2001. She and her team laid out a simple case: there were few women executives at Morgan Stanley; they held lesser positions and earned lower compensation relative to men; and they experienced slower career advancement, all as a result of unlawful discrimination.

After three years of arguing the case against Morgan Stanley's entire in-house counsel team and more than two dozen lawyers from some of New York's most high-powered private firms, the firm entered into a $54 million Consent Decree, EEOC's second largest gender-bias settlement ever and the largest with a Wall Street firm. Two million dollars of this settlement will be set aside to pay for diversity training and gender management programs.

With more than 60,000 women working in the financial services industry in New York City alone, the impact of this settlement extends far beyond a few hundred women at Morgan Stanley. The federal judge who would have heard the case if it had gone to trial, Richard M. Berman of the Southern District of New York, said, "The Consent Decree, in my opinion, is a watershed in safeguarding and promoting the rights of women on Wall Street."

Ms. Grossman's victory in EEOC v. Morgan Stanley is merely the jewel of an impressive 12-year career in government. She has litigated more than 100 EEOC lawsuits, many of which established important legal precedents. Her settlement with Del Laboratories was the first sexual harassment case to provide more than $1 million in relief for the victims. As a result of EEOC v. Bell Atlantic, some 11,000 employees had credit for retirement restored after taking time off for pregnancy and maternity leaves. And partly due to her cases, companies no longer cap health benefits for workers with AIDS.

With her impressive record, it should be no surprise that the paper of record for big business, The Wall Street Journal, has designated this government lawyer as one of 50 "women to watch."

Ms. Grossman has also been a positive force in her own work environment. She has combined case development with training, mounting a mock trial both to improve advocacy and motivate the legal team. She also loves her work, and her energy is a positive influence on her co-workers. "Feeling like you're doing the right thing 100 percent of the time is great, "said Grossman. "I'm never working on something that I don't believe in."

As a New York Times profile on Ms. Grossman said, she "seems genetically coded to take on the status quo." Fortunately for our government and "little guys" everywhere, the status quo she chose to focus on was the persistent discrimination that still permeates our society. Cynics would say that discrimination in the workplace is inevitable and can never be totally eradicated. Elizabeth Grossman goes to work every day to prove those cynics wrong, and our country is stronger for her efforts.

Grossman's contributions were recognized when she received the Justice and Law Enforcement Medal, one of the Service to America Medals, on September 28, 2005.

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