There was much to be learned last week from the feisty Michigan mom who let no dust gather under her feet before pouncing on the sexually suggestive cheer her six-year old daughter was expected to perform on a Madison Heights sports field. Equally illuminating was the 13-year-old sexual assault allegation of a former female V.P. at Goldman Sachs that has finally seen daylight. It seems the only difference between pom-pom wielding little girls on athletic fields and female execs on Wall Street trading floors is the degree of their indignities.
In both settings, the message resonates: keep it “in the family” or you’ll be ostracized and driven out. Increasingly, America seems less like a meritocracy and more like an organizational model crafted by the capo in a crime family.
Jennifer Tesch, mother of six year old Kennedy Tesch, learned that her child was being asked to recite the following chant as a cheerleader for the Wolverines cheering squad, a group that includes five and six year old girls: “Our backs ache, our skirts are too tight, we shake our booties from left to right.” She immediately took her complaints over the suggestive chant up the ladder of the Wolverines management. When she was told the chant would stay, she went to the media. Within days, she was publicly humiliated on local radio by the cheerleading coach and young Kennedy was summarily kicked out of the squad.
The primary complaint was that Kennedy’s mom broke a cardinal rule of both small town despots, exalted religious leaders preying on children, and financial crime syndicates: what happens “in the family” stays “in the family.”
Last week, the cheerleading coach, Lisa Ernest, called in to Detroit’s popular radio program, Mojo in the Morning. She defended the cheer and called Jennifer Tesch, the mom with the guts to speak out, a “lunatic” and a “nutbag.” Ms. Ernest ranted in a most unprofessional manner and sounded exceedingly like a woman who should not come within less than the length of a major league football field of children, a conclusion that did not miss one of the radio hosts who said as much.
During the same week, in lower Manhattan, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which regularly rubber stamps dubious class action settlements for the same serially corrupt Wall Street miscreants, docketed in a complaint from three former Goldman Sachs women: Cristina Chen-Oster, Lisa Parisi and Shanna Orlich. The women allege what is universally accepted by any sighted individual who has ever walked inside a Wall Street firm and observed secretarial desks lined up in the hallways with women, while plush, glass paneled private offices are inhabited by men of a fair complexion. That is, the women allege that Goldman Sachs rung every ounce of talent and production out of them, then failed to pay or promote them on a par with their male counterparts.
And, of course, as so many women before them have documented, if they were too talented or too ambitious, they had to be stripped of their dignity and put in their place via the sexual harassment/assault enforcement squad.
The lead plaintiff in the Goldman case, Cristina Chen-Oster, charges the following in the complaint:
“In or around May 1999, Chen-Oster told her supervisor about an incident which had occurred in 1997, shortly after she joined Goldman Sachs. In the fall of 1997, Goldman Sachs sponsored a dinner for a male employee who had just been promoted to Managing Director. Part of the evening took place at Scores, a topless bar, and all employees in the group were encouraged to join. At the end of the evening, a married male Associate in her group insisted that he escort her to her boyfriend’s apartment building a few blocks away. In the hallway outside the apartment, the male colleague surprised Chen-Oster by pinning her against a wall, kissing and groping her, and attempting to engage in a sexual act with her. Chen-Oster did not invite or welcome the attempt, and had to physically defend herself.”
After Ms. Chen-Oster reported the act, not keeping it “in the family,” as the code enforcers require on Wall Street, she was systematically marginalized, stripped of lucrative accounts, ridiculed at meetings. The man she says attacked her and reported it himself the next morning to his supervisor, went on to become a Managing Director and a Partner at Goldman Sachs.
Why is this matter just now becoming public? Ms. Chen-Oster resigned from Goldman in March 2005. She filed her complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) four months later in July 2005. What the EEOC, a Federal agency, has been doing with the complaint for half a decade is not made clear in the filing.
The news of the three women taking their Goldman Sachs experience outside of “the family” was greeted with an OpEd at Bloomberg News, written by Jacki Zehner. Ms. Zehner is not particularly the quintessential objective voice on Goldman, as both she and her husband are former Goldman partners. Sounding like she was auditioning for the role as expert witness for Goldman in the lawsuit, Ms. Zehner had this to say:
“I joined Goldman in 1988 as an analyst in the mortgage securities department and two years later became a trader on the mortgage desk. By 1996 I was managing the fixed-rate trading desk, and was made a partner. I was the youngest woman and first female trader to hold that position.
“I believe I was promoted because of both my profitability and my commitment to teamwork. It also helped that I was a woman. Although I had to deal with my share of bad-boy behavior, from both clients and Goldman men, whenever it crossed the line I always had a person to talk to about it. No issue was left unresolved. Further, I felt my performance evaluations were well-executed and fair.”
While a much more nuanced and professional presentation, Ms. Zehner refrained from calling the Goldman plaintiffs “lunatics” and “nutbags,” in reality Ms. Zehner was performing the same chilling function as cheerleading coach Lisa Ernest: cast aspersions on those who dare to question the status quo of “the family.”
Many people, both here and abroad, believe America is dying, one corrupt investment banker at a time, one incestuous revolving door at a time, one dirty piece of lobbyist legislation at a time, one hardworking layed off worker and dispossessed family at a time. So when a gutsy Michigan mom can summon the courage to question words of sexual objectification of her six year old daughter, and three former Goldman women are willing to put careers and reputations on the line to provide a rare look inside the power dynamics of the famously secretive Goldman Sachs, let us question the voices of the detractors who still think women have an obligation to take one for the team; lest that team becomes irreversibly a repugnant and universally despised Team USA.
PAM MARTENS worked on Wall Street for 21 years and was lead plaintiff in a suit challenging the legality of Wall Street’s private justice system and abuse of women at Smith Barney. She and her co-plaintiff, Judith Mione, opted out of the settlement of that suit when claims were ushered into another private justice system rather than court. Ms. Martens has no security position, long or short, in any company mentioned in this article. She writes on public interest issues from New Hampshire. She can be reached at email@example.com