WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and two colleagues are seeking more information from securities regulators about whether Wall Street firms are covering up signs of sexual harassment.
In letters to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the three senators suggested that the relative lack of reports about sexual harassment on Wall Street recently are not because harassment isn't taking place.
“Though sexual harassment in the entertainment and political industries has dominated the news, it is pervasive throughout the workforce,” said the letters from Warren, Sen. Catherine Cortex Masto, D-Nev., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
“The world of finance is not immune from this harassment,” the senators added, while noting the “finance and insurance” sector had the ninth-most sexual harassment claims between 2005 and 2015, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
"The financial sector however has had fewer public revelations of sexual harassment than other industries," the senators wrote said. "This disparity is not, according to female employees, a sign that sexual harassment does not occur: in recent months, women in finance have anonymously reported being 'grabbed, kissed out of the blue, humiliated, and propositioned by colleagues and bosses' at work."
The senators added that "the silence appears to result from strong ‘cultural and financial forces' in the industry that discourage speaking out, including payout of large settlements with non-disclosure agreements to harassment victims, class-action prohibitions, and forced arbitration."
The letter to the SEC pointed to a provision in the Dodd-Frank Act that required the commission to create an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion that would be responsible for “diversity management, employment, and business activities.”
The letter asks specifically what the regulators have done to encourage financial companies to establish systems that discourage sexual harassment and whether any companies have reported discrimination or sexual harassment. The three senators also want to know whether "diversity assessment reports” have been submitted to the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion.
In 2015, financial regulators established joint standards governing diversity policies and practices at regulated companies.
Since that time, senators asked if the SEC's minority and women inclusion office has "heard from any regulated entities who have experienced problems with workplace discrimination, including sexual harassment? Please provide an overview of the employment discrimination challenges facing the SEC's regulated entities."
The letter to FINRA asked if it had reviewed transfer files known as U4 and U5’s for instances of reported sexual harassment. It also asked to what extent the files captured sexual harassment cases.
“While the data that FINRA collects on individual brokers is not comprehensive, it provides unique insight into sexual harassment in the financial sector,” the senators wrote. "Based on the data that FINRA collects on broker registration, termination, and arbitration, would FINRA be able to conduct analyses of the prevalence of sexual harassment perpetrated by brokers?"
The issue is gaining renewed attention on Wall Street. Earlier this week, Bank of America said it had fired two more employees in its prime brokerage unit as part of an ongoing investigation into sexual misconduct in the company.