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Ex-Morgan Stanley staffers want out of NDAs to discuss racism

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A group of former Morgan Stanley employees is asking the Wall Street firm to release them from confidentiality agreements so they can tell their stories of alleged racial discrimination at the bank.

At least six former staffers say they can’t share their experiences because of the strict conditions in their exit pacts with the firm, according to lawyer Jeanne Christensen. She’s also representing Morgan Stanley’s former diversity chief, Marilyn Booker, who is suing the bank, claiming systemic bias faced by women of color.

Christensen said she’s asking the bank’s board to allow the ex-employees to “tell their stories about the racial discrimination they experienced at Morgan Stanley” without fearing retribution because of the secrecy pacts they signed. Non-disclosure agreements — typically signed in exchange for severance or access to deferred compensation — and mandatory arbitration have been standard for years across Wall Street. Both are part of what critics call a machine of silence that shields bad behavior from becoming public.

Morgan Stanley had no immediate comment on Christensen’s request.

Booker became one of the most senior executives on Wall Street to level racial-bias accusations against a bank, allegations that came months after her 26-year stint at the firm came to an end. Booker alleged she experienced and witnessed “systemic racial discrimination” against African Americans at the bank. Morgan Stanley said it strongly rejects her claims and will fight the lawsuit.

Wall Street and corporate America are facing tough questions about their commitment to diversity in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The movement has emboldened more people to speak out about their experiences with racism at work.

Christensen said one of the former employees was dismissed in the December round of job cuts that also eliminated Booker’s position, months after the staffer created “a diversity initiative intended to address systemic race discrimination at Morgan Stanley.”

Morgan Stanley “should do the right thing rather than continue to silence these former employees,” Christensen said in an interview. “Only in this manner can Morgan Stanley meaningfully move forward towards racial equality and diversity.”

Bloomberg News