A lawsuit recently filed in U.S. District Court alleges that local black employees of Ameriprise, one of the nation’s largest financial advisor networks, were deprived of opportunities to make as much money as their white peers because of their race.
The three who filed suit maintain that, among other things, supervisors not only steered business toward white workers, but made racially charged statements at a company dinner. “The company made our working conditions so unbearable there was no way to thrive under them,” says Aida C. Gonzalez, who is suing along with former co-workers Vaughn J. Coleman and Ryan K. Starks. “We had to walk away and we are suffering financially because of it.”
Up until late last year, Coleman, Gonzalez and Starks were independent financial advisers who had franchise agreements with Ameriprise. For five years, Coleman and Gonzalez worked out of a building just off City Line Avenue that caters to several black-run companies. They claim they were asked to move to an office that was a more appropriate fit with the company’s corporate image.
Gonzalez also alleges she received cold, years-old leads for potential clients from Ameriprise, while white franchisees got fresher prospects. “It hurts your probability of success,” says Gonzalez, who claims that when she brought a new client in, white supervisors took the business away from her. All three also allege that supervisors would call their clients to discuss their performance, a practice they didn’t undertake for white employees; they read this as an effort to undermine them.
Finally, Coleman and Gonzalez claim that at a Sept. 19, 2005 dinner held to celebrate the company’s name change from American Express Financial Advisors to Ameriprise, supervisors made numerous racially insensitive comments, including asking questions about why black jurors never seem to be able to convict other blacks, referring to the O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson cases.
“There is a clear pattern of unfair treatment here, that is deliberate,” says Aaron Freiwald, an attorney representing the three plantiffs. “This is not about whining; this is about racial discrimination. This is not 1960 and what my clients have experienced should not be taking place in 2006 in this country.”
When called for comment on the suit, an Ameriprise spokeswoman denied the charges.
“We don’t agree that their allegations have merit,” said Susan Gethin. “Our position will be clear when this goes to court.”
The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on Jan. 19, after which Ameriprise filed a motion asking Judge Edmund Ludwig to throw out the fraud, defamation and retaliation charges. The sides are awaiting a decision on that motion, after which a hearing date will be set.