NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- You know pop culture's come a long way when Ellen's coming-out party can be, primarily, a marketing event. But Wall Street still looks like it is far from seeing the earnings potential of gay people. Because on much of the Street, still, people can be openly gay only at risk to their careers.
The scandal at Lew Lieberbaum & Co. isn't the only case of alleged abuse on Wall Street. At Cantor Fitzgerald's L.A. offices, suspicions about one (now ex-) employee's sexuality allegedly led to invidious harassment.
And a warning to the faint of heart:
In 1994, Mark Anderson, then 32, was hired as a trading assistant for Cantor Fitzgerald, though his background wasn't that of a typical trader. He'd played on the championship UCLA Volleyball Team for four years and majored in history, but never graduated. Since college, he'd been working as an interior decorator. Anderson was looking for a change when he got a call in his West Hollywood apartment from a childhood friend, now a Cantor trader. Anderson was urged to apply for a trading assistant job and after two interviews got the gig. The payoff was potentially huge; million-dollar-a-year traders are not uncommon at Cantor. "If you're not making $500,000 a year, you're fired," says Anderson. "I thought that if I could just make it through the training, I was in." But Anderson didn't take into account the hazing that he'd have to endure. On his second day of work, a lewd picture was posted on the office bulletin board. According to a lawsuit filed with the California Superior Court on March 4, 1996, the photo depicted "a man performing oral sex on another man in front of him while simultaneously being the subject of anal intercourse from another man behind him.
Anderson says that the crowd around him -- including the partners, traders, senior sales staff and Senior Vice President William Rice, head of sales trainees -- all broke out into laughter, and one muttered, "This might be the only time this guy eats pussy." But Anderson stuck through it all. He says he suffered through a phony resume posted in the lunchroom citing his earlier work as "a fluff guy" for the porn producer of Diesel Dicks; the recommended tonsillectomy to make room for more "leading men"; his job as a "boy Friday" for a surfboard tycoon "polishing sticks."
"Actually, the worst of it was all the spitballs and snot balls they'd shoot at me all day," he says. "It got to a point where my shirt was soaking wet, but if I got up and complained, I'd be fired." Anderson thought his only hope for deliverance was passing his Series 7 brokerage test in the fall of 1994, so he could become a full-fledged member of the trading tribe. "I thought, 'I'll get through this B.S. from these assholes, and then I'll be making the money,'" he says. "I'll suffer for a year and then move on." But as he was preparing for his test, Anderson says that on slow trading days, Rice and other partners would stand in front of him and bet thousands that Anderson would fail. Nonetheless, in December 1994, he passed. But he says the hazing continued unabated. In May of the following year he got a reprieve when he was sent to New York for some training in over-the-counter trading (the Los Angeles office only dealt with listed trades). "The New York office had a different culture," says Anderson. "It was still sick, but not quite so depraved." Anderson was put up in a spacious suite in the Hotel Pennsylvania across from Madison Square Garden. But he found that partners at Cantor's One World Trade Center office on the 104th floor had plans for his hotel room. "In the office one day, a partner introduced me to three girls from Pitt," says Anderson. "He said they were bisexual and they would be staying with me." Anderson says that various partners wined and dined the girls for the next week, taking them to New York hot spots like Tavern on the Green and having sex with them in his hotel room. During this stay, Anderson says he got a call from Rice's assistant. "She said she needed my car keys because they were repainting the garage in our office building," says Anderson. Further, he says, he was asked to stay in New York for an extra week and to meet the office at the big, biennial sales meeting of Cantor Fitzgerald in Dallas.
As graphically described in an article in Los Angeles magazine, the homemade video shows Rice and senior partner Shawn Blakeslee wearing paper bags over their heads with crudely drawn cartoon faces of a black man with curly hair. "We be doin' dis and shit!" Rice says, mugging for the camera in the Cantor Fitzgerald garage. In the next shot, Rice and Blakeslee are seen driving out of garage in Anderson's silver 1978 Alfa Romeo. The next scene also takes place in the Cantor garage, where senior partner Bill Malcolm is wearing the paper "blackface" and trader Jonathan Blum is in a paper bag styled as the caricature of an Asian face. Then they pan to Anderson's car, which has received a factory paint job -- except that the car is now black and white, like a police cruiser. On the body of the car are bold antigay statements like "Poo Stabber," "Rump Ranger," "Fudge Packed Here" and "1-800 Butt Boy." As the video fades to black, Rice is seen mocking the Hispanic garage attendant who was charged with guarding Anderson's car. At the Dallas sales meeting, with virtually the entire worldwide sales staff and senior management in attendance, Los Angeles says "the tape was introduced as a new training video for desperate young brokers who could obtain business by soliciting the homosexual community of Los Angeles." As the entire room broke out in laughter, Anderson in his assigned seat was blown away.
Anderson returned to the office, nearly broken, but nearly a broker. A few weeks later he says he was passing by Rice's office when he was called in and told abruptly "you're not going to make a good stockbroker" and without warning or reprimand, fired on the spot. "Mark attempted to stick it out for such a long period of time because he thought this was a plumb job," says Anderson's attorney Paul Nankivell. "But it turns out, it's actually like hell week on a permanent basis." Nankivell, joined by celebrated defense attorney Johnnie Cochran, is representing Anderson in an arbitration against Cantor. Their lawsuit was thrown out of court, foiled by the Form U-4 Anderson had to sign when he took his Series 7 test. This National Association of Securities Dealers-mandated form required all brokers to agree to settle disputes through arbitration, and not the courts. "It's a stacked deck," says Anderson. "It's like getting into a fight with a kid and having to settle it with his father." Cantor Fitzgerald, for its part, acknowledges that the Los Angeles office was out of control. But no one has lost their job over their role in Anderson's abuse. "It's hugely embarrassing to Cantor Fitzgerald," admits managing director Debra Walton-Collings, "because it has all the elements of a soap opera. But the incident is in no way indicative to our culture. The behavior was inappropriate and sophomoric, but it was not malicious attack at all. Obviously, we think this is an opportunistic claim without merit and that will be revealed in the appropriate legal forum. We have a very excellent recruiting program at top universities and black colleges. The media has characterized it as a hazing situation, similar to the Tailhook scandal, and that's absolutely absurd." Nonetheless, Anderson is pressing on. This week Nankivell and Cochran are awaiting the list of the three arbitrators to be selected by the NASD. The case could go before that board as early as next week. As for Anderson, after taking off six months to get his head together, he's given up on the securities industry. "I've gone back to interior design," he says, "where people are just people." Easy Money is a column appearing regularly about life on the Street.