Bloomberg Businessweek

She found something in her mug, and it wasn’t coffee

Lee Stowell says she was harassed at Cantor Fitzgerald. She wants her day in court

Lee Stowell couldn’t find her Bernie Sanders mug.

It was August 2016 at the Summit, N.J., outpost of Cantor Fitzgerald, the Wall Street brokerage. The tension in the office was becoming unbearable for Stowell—and not only because her colleagues couldn’t stand the rumpled-haired socialist on her mug. For a while, work had felt like a throwback to the early days of her career, when traders could spew invective with impunity, and women had to stomach it or find a way to hold their own.

Stowell scanned her desk, then took her hunt to the kitchen. She opened a cabinet, saw Sanders staring back at her, and reached for the mug. “I looked in,” she tells Bloomberg Businessweek. “There was feces in it.”

Stowell, now 54, eventually reported what she thought was a pattern of abuse. Not long after, she lost her job as a junk-bond saleswoman. Last year she filed a lawsuit accusing her former boss, a colleague, and Cantor of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, all of which they deny. The firm believes she participated in or even instigated the ugliness, according to a person familiar with its thinking. Cantor quickly filed a motion with a New Jersey judge to send the lawsuit from open court to a venue that companies much prefer: arbitration.

That’s where stories like this usually disappear. Mandatory arbitration, a common provision in employment contracts, forces workers to resolve complaints behind closed doors, without judges and juries. This spares bosses and shareholders from the embarrassment and cost of lawsuits. It also keeps victims from learning about each other and banding together, which means companies can avoid addressing

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