Goldman “Defender” Saw Harassment at Firm: “Deep Doodah”

After three women filed a lawsuit charging Goldman Sachs with gender discrimination, former Goldman partner Jacki Zehner wrote a Bloomberg op-ed in hopes of offering a balanced take on the case and to highlight the complexities of gender discrimination lawsuits. Other writers — including Helaine Olen at Slate’s XX and Courtney Comstock at Business Insider, and this reporter — immediately interpreted Zehner’s piece as a defense of Goldman against the charges.

Zehner doesn’t agree.

“I really did not defend the firm against bias charges,” she said in an interview with The Observer. “I don’t get paid for this. I’m not seeking publicity.” Her original 1600-word submission, she says, was edited down to 900 words. “I think the longer piece was much more nuanced, showed a lot more sensitivity to the complaint.”

She says Bloomberg approached her about writing the piece, and she agreed in part because she wants the news service to provide more space for women writers. Plus, the assignment gave her a chance to bring the lawsuit to the attention of Bloomberg’s primary audience — the overwhelmingly male population of Wall Streeters who use the company’s terminals.

Zehner said that the editors at Bloomberg had asked her to recount her personal experience at Goldman. She says that she’s “passionately engaged with issues related to gender equity,” and views the Goldman lawsuit as a chance to address the real issues surrounding gender on Wall Street. She’s on the board of the Women’s Funding Network, a group whose goal is to create social change for women and girls.

Stressing that she’s been gone from the firm for eight years, Zehner says that she has witnessed and personally experienced inappropriate behavior at Goldman. “My former boss was dismissed for sexual harassment and discrimination,” she said. In her experience, though, Goldman resolved such issues appropriately. “I don’t say that I’ve never experienced it. I say that it was appropriately handled.”

Nor does Zehner condone actions alleged by the plaintiffs in the Goldman suit. “No way on earth do I think any corporate outing … should be held at a strip club. Did my boss bring us to a strip club? Yes he did. I was shocked. I took it back to my boss, and he got in deep doohdah for that.”

In pointing out that class-action lawsuits can have the perverse effect of deterring managers from hiring women or minorities, Zehner meant to highlight the complexity of the issue. “I’m as pro talented women as you can get but I think your time can’t be spent fighting for women who have been fired for performance reasons.”

Zehner says, as she did in her Bloomberg op-ed, that it’s up to the courts to decide whether there’s systematic gender discrimination at Goldman.

“Goldman — they do more than most, but it’s not enough,” Zehner says. “I do not believe that any firm, including Goldman, is doing enough to address this complex issue.”

Goldman “Defender” Saw Harassment at Firm: “Deep Doodah”