The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week

Not pretty in pink for PeopleSoft; GE not outside the box; AWEsome mistake; Bangalore bureau; AOL Instant Mess-enger.
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1. We, the PeopleSoft

A few months ago, you may recall, we wrote about a former

PeopleSoft

(PSFT)

employee's

email exchange with CEO Craig Conway -- correspondence that made us wonder whether PeopleSoft was a people-friendly place, discriminationwise.

Here we go again.

A PeopleSoft employee,

TheStreet.com

has learned, recently filed a lawsuit against the company, accusing the enterprise software firm of sexual harassment, the creation of a hostile work environment and racial discrimination.

We've seen the complaint, which was filed Jan. 28 in federal court in Maryland. It's not pretty stuff.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff, one Karren Hill, says things started going wrong at PeopleSoft even before she was hired to work at the company's Bethesda, Md., office. In the course of her 2001 job interview at the company, her future supervisor explained that among other qualifications, the ideal candidate would be "wearing a pink silk blouse."

Once Hill joined the company -- working as a customer relationship management product consultant, and drawing a base salary of $96,000 a year -- things got worse, the lawsuit alleges.

Hill -- whose client contacts included various D.C.-area government organizations ranging from the Census Bureau, the FBI and the National Security Agency to the Army -- says she got plenty of unwelcome contact from inside the company. There was her supervisor's hug. His leg-grabbing. The man who, at a regional sales meeting, told the group Hill had "the most beautiful, sexy eyes" and that she wanted him sexually.

There's plenty more. Most of it -- including the obscenely shaped gummy candy, further unwelcome physical contact and inappropriate sexual references -- appears to be sexual harassment; Hill, who is black, alleges racial discrimination as well.

Hill filed a complaint with her office's human resources department in March 2003, according to the suit. Several weeks later, she was placed on paid administrative leave, where she's been ever since. Sometime after then, the company stopped paying her monthly expenses, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued her a right-to-sue letter.

Hill, who seeks a total of $7 million in damages, declined to comment on the suit, as did her lawyer. A PeopleSoft spokesman -- presumably busy dealing with

Oracle's

(ORCL) - Get Report

hostile bid for PeopleSoft -- said the company doesn't comment on pending litigation.

So, if true, are the allegations in this suit, like the previously reported complaint, isolated occurrences at PeopleSoft -- something to be expected in a company of 12,000 people?

We at the lab are still trying to figure that out.

2. GE Says Let 'Er Drip

We finally figured out what bugs us about that

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

water technologies commercial.

Perhaps you've seen the TV commercial: Four computer-generated humanoids, each composed of some clear liquid that's ostensibly water, play in a string quartet.

The plot of the commercial, as such, is that one of the two violinists in the quartet improves the other's playing by fishing impurities out of the water that comprises his body.

But we're more interested in the cellist. The cellist is watery and translucent, but it's clearly a female cellist.

Which is further proof of something we noticed a little while back: Whenever you see someone playing a cello in an advertisement,

it's bound to be a female cellist. It has something to do with sex, we believe.

Yes, no matter how outside-the-box GE's technology may be, the basic ideas are as inside-the-box as everyone else's.

3. AWEstruck by Advertising Blunder

AT&T Wireless

(AWE)

has apparently made numerous mistakes while

transferring departing customers' cell-phone numbers to other carriers.

Unfortunately, wireless number portability isn't the only area in which AT&T Wireless has gotten tripped up by little details.

We call your attention to a newspaper advertisement that the up-for-sale cell-phone carrier ran earlier this month, one in which AT&T Wireless touted its attractive rates on certain international calls.


As AWE noted in a subsequent press release, "the ad uses abbreviations for five of those countries. The abbreviation for Japan should have been 'JPN,' but because of an error it was abbreviated in an offensive way."

We're betting you can figure out what that offensive way was.

AT&T Wireless -- by the way, if you're interested in buying it, your bids are due today -- isn't the only company in on this. The press release points out that the ad was developed by Ogilvy & Mather, a unit of the

WPP Group

(WPPGY)

. Both companies apologize for what they term an "inexcusable mistake."

Which gets us thinking: When a $27 billion market cap telco and a unit of a $13 billion ad agency create a full-page ad for

The Wall Street Journal

and other papers, we assume a few dozen folks have to sign off on the ad before it goes to print.

Next time around, we assume that more of them will look at the fine print.

4. Oh, Bangalore Slowly and Play the Fife Lowly

For years now, financial news reporters have written stories about how millions of U.S. citizens have lost jobs to people in other countries doing the same work for a fraction of the salary.

This outsourcing trend has been slow and relentless. The off-shoring started in manufacturing, then continued to low-level service jobs and degreed professions, such as engineering, as well. It's commonplace. It's almost a nonstory.

This week, however, financial news reporters were horrified to discover a new set of workers who may be losing their jobs to cut-rate overseas replacements: financial news reporters.

Reuters

(RTRSY)

, as

The New York Times

reported Monday, is hiring six journalists in Bangalore, India -- one of the world's most favored locations for U.S. tech outsourcing -- to do "basic financial reporting" on up to 3,000 American companies.

Hmmm. We dimly remember back when we were writing stories about manufacturing layoffs and jobs being exported to Mexico or China or Korea. We'd stand around the financial news-reporter water cooler, saying stuff like, "Gosh, I feel bad for those factory guys." We'd wait a respectful pause, then say, "Well,

our

jobs our safe. They can't send

our

jobs to another country."


Hah.

As we sit around here at the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab -- calling up executives on the phone, reading press releases we find on the Internet, listening to Webcasts of company conference calls and checking our inbox for emails from sources -- all of a sudden, we're not so sure.

We don't know what's dumber. Is it Dumb that we're getting so worked up over a mere six jobs? Or is it that we sharp financial news reporters here in the U.S. thought it couldn't happen to us?

5. One Crazy Osama

You know, it used to be that people on Wall Street shared tasteless jokes with one another.

Now they spread computer viruses, worms and other nasty stuff.

That's what we decided this week, after we heard the sad story of a hedge fund manager and his AOL Instant Messenger.

While he was diligently working on his computer Tuesday, up popped an instant message from a buddy of his, another hedge fund manager. "check this out:" read the IM, followed by a Web site address that included "osama_capture" among its string of characters.

So check it out he did. On the Web site where he ended up, he saw a photo of Osama bin Laden, the words "WGU News Player," the headline "Osama Captured!" and a pop-up box asking him if he wanted to install a "News Player Applet."

Osama Silliness
Not even IM is sacred; OK, it never was

Yes, he did. Soon our hedge fund manager -- who spoke on condition of anonymity -- was watching a sort of crudely designed video game starring Osama bin Laden. "What's this?" he IM'd his friend. "Don't open it!" his friend shot back. But it was too late.

What these hedgies had encountered was a distant cousin of all those email viruses you've been reading about -- ones that, once they're on your computer, hijack your address book and, unbeknownst to you, email all sorts of deviltry to your friends and colleagues.

In this case, by visiting the Web site and agreeing to download the game, our hedgie installed what

Network Associates

, for one, calls a "potentially unwanted program." In addition to installing the Osama detritus, what it apparently did was immediately jump into his AOL IM buddy list and, unbeknownst to him, send the same "check it out" message to everyone on his list -- duplicating the process that led to his receiving the IM. At least one of the recipients of his IM -- yet another hedge fund manager -- installed the program, too. And it all started all over again.

This type of computer infection -- in which unwelcome software masquerades as a recommendation in an IM from a friend -- is rarer than email propagation, say experts, but it's not unprecedented.

An odd wrinkle here is that the company behind the software, listed on the relevant site as PSD Tools, ostensibly gets your permission for the buddy list hijacking. Buried in the boilerplate end-user agreement on the site (which later in the week changed its headline to "Saddam Escapes!") is the news that the software you're installing will "permit the automatic sending of advertising messages originating from your Computer to your contact or 'buddy' list regarding Content offered by PSD Tools or its suppliers."

Well, once you put it that way, it sounds kind of sweet!

AOL, however, isn't buying it. "This is a nasty piece of adware," says a spokesman. "It is one we believe may violate the AIM terms of service, and we are investigating our legal options."

Fine with us. We'll just go back to IM'ing real estate listings in Bangalore.

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