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Altruist sued by ex-employee for alleged racial discrimination

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Altruist, a tech startup and custodian, is being sued by a former employee who accuses the firm of racial discrimination and labor code violations, among other claims.

Lewis Dackam, who is Black, says in a newly filed lawsuit that, during the year in which he worked at the firm, he was excluded from meetings, “routinely and frequently verbally abused” by his supervisor and passed over for promotions when “less experienced and less talented” Caucasian colleagues were promoted.

When asked for comment, Altruist’s Chief Compliance Officer Mazi Bahadori provided the following statement:

“Altruist does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We have been committed since our founding to hiring and retaining a diverse workforce, believing that diversity of people, ideas, and viewpoints is one of our most important assets. We take these allegations seriously and plan to fully defend ourselves. We remain diligent on being an inclusive workplace, while being sensitive to all forms of racial bias. We are also committed to long-term change to provide access for Black employees not only at Altruist but for all of financial services, and America.”

The racial discrimination lawsuit was filed June 8, three days after the company made a public committment to promote Black inclusion and equality and be a “leader for change” within the industry. The company published the pledge after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

Other financial services firms, such as Bank of America, have made similar pledges to improve diversity within the industry, which has long been plagued by accusations of discrimination.

Among financial planners, Black and Latino advisors comprise just 3.8% of CFPs, though they represent 30% of the U.S. population.

Black advisors say they have experienced ridicule or harassment at their firms. In recent years, Black advisors and managers at Goldman Sachs, Edward Jones and Morgan Stanley have sued those firms over alleged racial discrimination.

In the lawsuit against Altruist, Dackam claims the company and its management “routinely harassed and discriminated against” Dackam because of his race. Dackam, who quit his job in Canada to be an engineer at Altruist in Los Angeles, resigned from the company in February 2020, according to the lawsuit.

Among several allegations, Chief Technology Officer Ashit Joshi did not “approve of” Dackam sharing his opinion of technical decisions in meetings, according to the complaint, and denied Dackam’s vacation requests to see his parents until January 2020, even as other employees received time off. Dackam allegedly was never given the raise he had been promised he would receive within 12 months of his hire. Two Caucasian developers Dackam had trained in certain software architecture were allegedly promoted to positions senior to him.

When Dackam’s team collectively aired grievances about Joshi to Altruist CEO Jason Wenk, Joshi allegedly retaliated only against Dackam by removing him from necessary meetings, telling him he was “dangerous” and routinely telling colleagues that Joshi would have to watch his back because of Dackam, the lawsuit says.

Dackam claims other employees and prospective employees faced racial discrimination at Altruist, too, according to the complaint. When the custodian hired two junior developers with the same experience and skill set, Altruist offered the Black developer $10,000 less in salary, according to the complaint. Joshi allegedly ignored Dackam’s recommendation to interview a “highly qualified African American engineer” for an open position. In one instance, the CTO purportedly told Dackam he didn’t like a former Black coworker because they complained about how African Americans were treated, according to the lawsuit.

Dackam says he complained to the firm’s operations manager, Ryan Wenk, and also to CEO Jason Wenk, but “no action was taken,” according to the lawsuit. Jason Wenk “turned a blind eye,” the lawsuit claims.

In the lawsuit, Dackam also claimed he was required to perform “illegal activities” by writing code that scraped data from password-protected areas of TD Ameritrade’s website. When he questioned the legality of the practice, he was told not to worry about it, according to the lawsuit.

Altruist’s Bahadori says this claim is false.

“We do not retrieve any information that the RIA has not explicitly authorized [TD Ameritrade] to provide to Altruist,” he said in a statement.

Dackam declined to comment on the lawsuit, which seeks damages from the firm. His attorney, D. Jason Davis, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

A hearing for the case has been scheduled for Oct. 21 in Los Angeles.

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