A former Fidelity Investments employee claims she was taunted by two male colleagues who openly made offensive remarks about her pregnancy, race, women’s bodies and slavery.
Elizabeth Evans said that over a period of about two years she faced an “unrelenting hostile work environment” and “locker room”-style banter at the company’s campus in Merrimack, New Hampshire, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this month. The Boston-based firm’s human resources department failed to intervene when she complained, the suit alleges.
“I’m fighting for my career in an industry that wasn’t made for people that look like me,” said Evans, who’s described in the lawsuit as Afro-Latina and of Dominican descent.
A spokesman for Fidelity, Vincent Loporchio, said the firm “investigated her complaints and found that they were without merit. We take all allegations of inappropriate behavior very seriously and when behavior of this sort is brought to our attention we investigate it and take prompt and appropriate action. We have no tolerance for this type of behavior and never will.”
Fidelity is among the largest fund firms in the world, with about $3.5 trillion under management as of September.
Evans, 37, who left Fidelity in early 2018, said that she experienced a barrage of racial and sexual antagonism, such that “it is not possible to list all of the comments and conduct in one document, given the volume of the incidents,” according to the complaint filed in New Hampshire state court in Hillsborough County.
She transitioned from another role within the firm to become a global trade operations analyst in April 2016. Shortly after, she learned she was pregnant. One male colleague spoke in “graphic detail” about what happens to a woman’s body following childbirth within earshot of Evans when she was trying to work, according to the lawsuit.
That colleague allegedly asked if she planned to stay home with her children “like every other mom who says she’s coming back to work” and referred to her maternity leave as “vacation.”
That employee and Evans’s male supervisor made other offensive comments, including referring to Mussolini and Hitler as good leaders and saying slavery was great for the U.S. economy, according to the suit.
The two colleagues are named as defendants in the lawsuit. They didn’t respond to emails and phone calls for comment. They remain employees of Fidelity, the company said.
Abigail Johnson became Fidelity’s chief executive in 2014 and has been trying to remedy the gender mix at her company with efforts like recruiting more women and promoting from within.
“Everyone who works at Fidelity knows that Abby Johnson has no tolerance for this type of behavior,” Loporchio said about the conduct described in Evans’s suit. “She’s shown she’s taken swift and decisive action in the past.”
Fidelity’s Merrimack outpost resembles a small college campus and is about an hour’s drive north of Boston across the state line in New Hampshire.
A culture of commenting on women’s appearances and desirability went unchecked there, Evans’s suit said. One of the colleagues made comments about her curly hair, saying it “looked like dreadlocks.” He would look up female colleagues in an employee directory and comment openly on how they looked, according to the complaint.
Evans felt she was ostracized and ignored by her supervisor and others, in what she saw as retaliation for her complaints.
“I never would have seen myself in this position,” Evans said about filing the lawsuit. “I have to laugh because it feels surreal.”
Fidelity has been trying to improve workplace behavior after instances of alleged harassment have come to light.
In 2017, according to the lawsuit, Fidelity’s human resources department shared a video of Johnson discussing sexual harassment, and the CEO said every manager would address the matter with their teams. On Evans’s team, the suit said, the video was ignored.
The case is Evans v. Fidelity Service Co., 216-2020-CV-00852, Hillsborough Superior Court, New Hampshire.
As our second lead editor, Cindy Hamilton covers health, fitness and other wellness topics. She is also instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. Cindy received a BA and an MA from NYU.