Macquarie Executive Claiming Harassment Fights for Job

(Bloomberg) -- Macquarie Group Ltd.’s embattled head of U.S. sales for cash equities accused the Australian bank of expelling her from the office and putting her reputation in the industry at risk -- all in retaliation for the sexual-harassment suit she filed against her former boss.

But Macquarie says Khristina McLaughlin asked to go on paid leave and then tried to back out at the last minute. After being locked out, the bank claims McLaughlin got on Macquarie’s New York trading floor to attend a morning meeting and, after being confronted, sat in the lobby to create a “public spectacle.”

The dueling versions of events are described in two letters to U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams: one from McLaughlin on April 20 and another from the Sydney-based bank three days later. McLaughlin seeks a court order requiring the bank to reinstate her and stop retaliating, while Macquarie says McLaughlin despises the bank and doesn’t want to be there.

Abrams set a hearing for April 27 in federal court in Manhattan.

“Macquarie takes any allegation of workplace impropriety extremely seriously and strongly denies Ms. McLaughlin’s allegation of retaliation,” spokesman Stephen Yan said in an emailed statement. “As the matter remains subject to legal action, we are unable to provide further comment.”

McLaughlin sued the bank and her ex-boss Robert Ansell in November, saying Ansell forced her into a relationship from 2015 to 2017. The affair ended when Ansell’s wife found out by reading their text messages, she said. McLaughlin is seeking $40 million in damages, saying her colleagues ostracized her, making her job impossible.

Ansell left the bank weeks before the lawsuit was filed.

McLaughlin said in her letter that her position at the bank has deteriorated in recent months, despite several rounds of mediation, including with a retired judge, that have cost her thousand of dollars.

According to Macquarie, McLaughlin asked to be put on paid leave on April 11, “after having made clear her contempt for Macquarie and her passionate desire to leave the firm over the course of several conversations with her management and human resources,” the bank said in the letter.

Paid Leave

Macquarie said it granted McLaughlin’s request on April 18 and advised her that her building and computer access would be suspended. But that’s when she backed out, the bank said, attributing the change of heart to a last-minute legal tactic.

McLaughlin “attempted to retract her approved leave request, but she made it clear that she was doing so solely because she had consulted with her attorney and had been advised that she would lose settlement leverage if she went on leave,” according to the bank’s letter.

McLaughlin had been advised that her access to Macquarie’s trading floor had been disabled, but she got in and attended the department’s morning meeting on April 19, according to the bank’s letter.

“It is best if you go home,” Dan Ritchie, Macquarie’s head of U.S. cash equities and McLaughlin’s new boss, told her that day, according to her letter. She left the workplace “quietly and without incident,” she said.

Ritchie spoke to McLaughlin privately after the meeting in an attempt “to avoid any public humiliation” and “politely reminded her that she had been placed on paid leave and that she should not be in the office,” the bank said in its letter. She “then proceeded to sit in the lobby of the building, presumably for the purpose of creating a public spectacle."

Macquarie’s letter also shed light on its defense in the underlying sexual-harassment suit. The bank claims that its review of 32,000 text messages between McLaughlin and Ansell “painted a diametrically opposing picture, that of a completely consensual relationship.”

“And through those thousands of messages, plaintiff made her strong emotional attachment and physical attraction to Mr. Ansell quite clear.”

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