Pamela Martens is an unlikely feminist icon. She is a successful stockbroker with a colonial house in faux-WASP Garden City, L.I, a recently minted Jeep Cherokee, a loving husband, a well-groomed son and a cat named Fritzy. But Ms. Martens has a fight on her hands.
The demure broker is “Martens” in Martens v. Smith Barney Inc., the landmark sexual harassment suit that exposed Smith Barney’s notorious “Boom Boom Room” in the Wall Street firm’s Garden City branch office. There, male employees allegedly retired to drink Bloody Marys and deride their female counterparts in terms that would make frat house residents blush. The National Organization for Women honored Ms. Martens as a “woman of courage” last year for standing up to the huge brokerage house, just as one Smith Barney branch manager was allegedly taunting her with threats of rape and death.
Lately, though, Ms. Martens is proving to be too courageous for some NOW members. Much to their chagrin, she is waging a fierce campaign against a proposed settlement that has been heartily endorsed by Patricia Ireland, NOW’s president.
Ms. Martens told The Observer she has asked a number of civil rights groups to file briefs opposing the settlement, in anticipation of a fairness hearing that Judge Constance Motley Baker of Federal District Court in Manhattan has scheduled for April 9 to consider arguments against the deal.
What’s more, Ms. Martens and Judith Mione, a co-plaintiff, are close to inking a deal with a well-known law firm to go forward with their own case against Smith Barney. “We are challenging this as an unlawful settlement and refiling a new class action,” Ms. Martens said.
But Ms. Martens isn’t just gunning for Smith Barney. She also wants to get even with Mary Stowell and Linda Friedman, the civil rights attorneys who are attempting to settle the class action suit. According to Ms. Martens, Ms. Stowell and Ms. Friedman treated the lawsuit’s numerous plaintiffs almost as abusively as Smith Barney did in pursuit of millions of dollars in legal fees.
“They adopted the same stereotyping of women that Smith Barney had adopted,” Ms. Martens said. “Coerce us, beat us down, drag it out long enough, and we’ll just go back to our knitting.”
At issue in the settlement is a proposed new quasi-judicial system for sexual harassment cases that Ms. Martens protests could provide the two attorneys with a torrent of fees for the next two years. Ms. Stowell and Ms. Friedman, feminist heroines in their own right for their work in the Smith Barney case and a similar harassment suit pending against Merrill Lynch & Company, say their former ally is retaliating with feverish accusations because she wanted to control the negotiations and be the star of the case. Ms. Martens’ attacks on them, said Ms. Friedman, were “a very bad form of woman-bashing.”
The bitter battle over the Smith Barney settlement, reached on Nov. 18, threatens to divide feminists. Ms. Ireland stands firmly behind Ms. Stowell and Ms. Friedman and their settlement with Smith Barney. However, Galen Sherwin, president of NOW’s New York City chapter-though refusing to criticize the two attorneys-has essentially taken Ms. Martens’ side.
As for Smith Barney, now an affiliate of Salomon Smith Barney Holdings Inc., the firm has denied any wrongdoing since the suit was filed in 1996, but has still joined hands with Ms. Stowell and Ms. Friedman to resolve the scandalous lawsuit. And it has used the settlement to promote itself as a fashionably progressive company that cares deeply about diversity and the woes of its female employees.
Mark Belnick, an attorney at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison who represents Smith Barney, shrugged off Ms. Martens’ threats. “She has a very uphill road,” he said.
Ms. Stowell and Ms. Friedman aren’t quite as sanguine. The two lawyers, who filed a successful motion to withdraw as Ms. Martens’ attorneys in September, are outraged by her opposition. They tout the settlement as a breakthrough for Wall Street women who have been forced for years to take their grievance to a mandatory arbitration system run by the securities industry and dominated by white males. The settlement would allow women at Smith Barney to have their sexual harassment complaints heard by private mediation panels with female members. “We believe the process established today can serve as a model for Wall Street and for corporate America in providing fair and equitable treatment for women and minorities,” Ms. Friedman said when the deal was announced.
The agreement also sets quotas to increase the number of women at the company and requires Smith Barney to invest $15 million in a companywide diversity training program. Smith Barney has retained Dr. Johnetta Cole, the former president of Spelman College in Atlanta, to oversee the program.
Dr. Cole is a surprising choice by a Wall Street firm. She was once a strong supporter of Cuban President Fidel Castro and lent her name in 1979 to a paid advertisement by the U.S. Peace Council denigrating singer Joan Baez for criticizing South Vietnam’s torture of dissenters.
However, Ms. Ireland pointed to Dr. Cole’s involvement as one of the reasons she wholeheartedly supported the settlement. “As an activist, I understand Pam’s frustration,” Ms. Ireland said. “But nobody gets 100 percent in any settlement.”
Ms. Martens argues that its new quasi-judicial system will be hopelessly compromised because Smith Barney will be footing the bill for everybody involved. For instance, she said, Ms. Stowell and Ms. Friedman are supposed to monitor the entire program on behalf of the company’s aggrieved women. But Ms. Martens noted the settlement calls for them to receive $12 million in legal fees and $900,000 in expenses from Smith Barney.
By contrast, the documents only provide a total of $1.9 million in “incentive bonuses” for 23 remaining plaintiffs. “The more we look, the more we find out that it simply has become an opportunity for lawyers to enrich themselves,” Ms. Martens said. “And there is very little money flowing through to the aggrieved.”
Ms. Sherwin of the New York City chapter also criticized the legal fees and said she had yet to be sold on the new quasi-judiciary system. “It’s hard to say if that’s progress,” she said. “It’s kind of sad. We want women to have the freedom to get justice, and obviously these kangaroo courts are skewed … Johnetta Cole is fantastic, but she is coming into a system where it is going to be very difficult for her.”
(For those of you who want to take a look at the settlement, New York Jobs for Justice, a coalition of labor, religious and community groups, is putting the entire settlement up on its Web site at http://www.excelsior.net/nyjwj. “This proposed settlement still forces people who have been discriminated into a mediation and binding arbitration process,” said Dominic Chan, the organization’s executive director, “replacing people’s right to a jury trial with a private judiciary system created by and indebted to Wall Street.”)
Mr. Belnick said that Smith Barney would be happy to consider offers from anyone interested in paying for the new mediation system. He was just as amused that anyone would claim that the process will be tainted by Smith Barney’s money: “This is a bizarre assertion.”
Ms. Stowell and Ms. Friedman took the criticism less lightly. They argued that they have spent millions of dollars of their own money on the suit and expect to incur many more expenses as fiercely independent monitors. They also argued that their plaintiffs, and others with harassment claims, stood to win even more money in Smith Barney’s new complaint process.
“I can’t speak for Pam’s intentions because she’s clueless,” said Ms. Stowell, who added that she believed Ms. Martens could scare off harassment victims by slamming the system and “end up hurting the very people that she would claim she is trying to protect.”
The two attorneys were equally dismissive of Ms. Sherwin. “I think that the person who is in the local office is someone who has been in office for a very short time,” Ms. Stowell said. “She’s never talked to us. I think that’s unfortunate.”
Ironically, Ms. Martens and her two former attorneys once made a formidable team. Early on, Ms. Martens emerged as a key spokesman for the group. Her horrific tales of being denied promotions and being sexually harassed in the Boom Boom Room made for sizzling copy. “They built me into that,” Ms. Martens said bitterly. “Kim Shepherd [a publicist with the Dilenschneider Group, which represents the attorneys] was always pushing me out there in front of the reporters.”
But last summer, Ms. Martens had a falling out with her attorneys as they entered into settlement talks with Smith Barney. She said she refused to participate in a mediation session leading up to the deal because her attorneys tried to prevent her from disclosing data concerning the hiring of women.
Ms. Stowell and Ms. Friedman sigh that such confidentiality agreements are routine in civil suits. So the two attorneys went ahead without Ms. Martens and her co-plaintiff, Ms. Mione, and made a settlement with the rest of their clients. “If Pam had been there, she would have seen it was a celebration of women working together to help other women,” Ms. Friedman said.
Ms. Martens accused her former attorneys of manipulating the remaining plaintiffs into accepting a toothless settlement. “Mary and Linda brainwashed them into thinking: ‘You did something great!'” she said ruefully.
If Ms. Martens had had her way, the group would have held out for $200 million in damages for the plaintiffs and any other sexual harassment victims. Moreover, she wanted an additional $10 million to set up a foundation for women on Wall Street to police the male-dominated industry.
But according to Ms. Stowell and Ms. Friedman, Ms. Martens wanted to run the foundation as well.
“That’s an absolute lie,” Ms. Martens snapped. “God almighty! I have 550 clients. How could I possibly run a foundation? I can’t even take in new accounts.”
In September, Ms. Stowell and Ms. Friedman withdrew as her attorneys, a move Ms. Martens believes was an attempt to scare her back into the fold. Not surprisingly, she didn’t blink. “If I wasn’t intimidated by a huge corporation like Smith Barney, why would two women in Chicago intimidate me?” she said. “I want to remind you that I worked in an office for a year when I had a rape threat and a death threat against me!”
And if her attempt to go back to court fails? Then Ms. Martens is prepared to take her case to the court of public opinion. Some feminists would probably love to see Ms. Martens disappear quietly. But she has no such plans. “Why, I just got invited to speak at the Suffolk County [Business and Professional Women] meeting,” she said with a gleam in her eye.