Michael Bloomberg built a toxic, sexually charged nightmare for women – Business Insider
Bloomberg LP, the financial-data firm that presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg founded in 1981, has repeatedly been described as a sexualized, predatory environment in harassment and discrimination complaints from several women, a Business Insider investigation has found.
In court records going back 20 years, multiple women have accused Michael Bloomberg of permitting his company to become — in the words of one former employee — a “reckless playground” for male senior executives to “target young, female, naive employees” for sex.
Two women, including one who filed a claim as recently as 2016, alleged that they were sexually assaulted by Bloomberg LP executives and terminated after raising complaints.
Michael Bloomberg has been accused repeatedly in court records of making crude remarks, including telling employees, “You must be a great fuck” and “I would like nothing more in life than to have Sharon Stone sit on my face.”
While his spokesman has portrayed those sorts of comments as unfortunate episodes from decades ago, Bloomberg and his company face five active discrimination complaints as he launches his presidential bid.
Mary Ann Olszewski and Margaret Doe are of two different generations, but they have similar tales to tell.
Olszewski started her career in the 1990s, and Doe started 20 years later. Both women were in their 20s when they landed exciting new jobs in sales at a prestigious financial-data firm.
And both women said they walked into similar environments. Almost immediately they felt like pieces of meat. They said older male colleagues made lewd sexual comments and pressured them to drink alcohol during work events. Conversations with powerful men at the company felt too personal. Olszewski said her boss sent her a pager message with the return number of a porn shop. Doe said her boss described his adult circumcision surgery to her and showed her photos of his bandaged penis.
They wanted it to stop, but they didn’t want to sabotage their careers.
Both women said it was challenging to find someone willing to listen. It was a private company, run by the notoriously prickly billionaire who founded it and ruled as its president and CEO.
He had been frequently accused of making sexist remarks and leering at young women on his staff, behavior they said fostered a macho culture throughout the company. Many women felt pressured to wear short skirts and heels, they said. The management structure was loose and undefined, and they felt that the HR department wouldn’t listen.
Both women said they left the company the same way: At the end of a night of drinking, they were sexually assaulted by a senior male colleague. After she finally built up the courage to tell someone that she had been raped by a superior, Olszewski said she was fired. Doe said the alleged assault sparked depression and anxiety that led to an extended medical leave.
The allegations above come from lawsuits that Olszewski and Doe filed, 20 years apart, against Bloomberg LP, the $54 billion firm that former New York City Mayor and recently announced presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg founded in 1981. At the time of both alleged assaults, Bloomberg was the company’s president and CEO.
Bloomberg LP has faced nearly 40 employment lawsuits from 64 people since 1996
“Mike has come to see that some of what he has said is disrespectful and wrong,” his spokesman, Stu Loeser, told The New York Times in November about his boss’ history of crude remarks. The paper quoted Bloomberg supporters saying that they had never heard him make sexist commentary and arguing that “he’s one of the biggest champions for women in this country and all over the world.”
But a Business Insider investigation, including a review of thousands of pages of court records, has found that the company that bears Bloomberg’s name has a long and consistent history of attracting lawsuits complaining of a hostile work environment for women, minorities, older workers, and workers with disabilities. Many of these complaints paint strikingly similar portraits of a freewheeling office culture where women were subjected to far worse than the occasional off-color remark from the CEO, and where those who raised concerns about workplace behavior were targeted for termination.
In total, nearly 40 employment lawsuits from 65 plaintiffs have been lodged against Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg personally in state and federal courts since 1996, the majority of which deal with discrimination over gender, race, and disability status, as well as pregnancy discrimination and wage theft. They include accusations of sexual assault, rampant drug use, the use of Bloomberg LP’s internal communications tools to rate women’s looks, repeated retaliation for raising complaints about sexual harassment, suggestions that female sales staff should use sex to keep clients happy, and a rumor of a senior executive impregnating a subordinate. Litigants have also accused the company of intimidating witnesses and threatening victims. Several cases accused Bloomberg of personally fostering an atmosphere where senior male colleagues were empowered to abuse women.
And unlike Michael Bloomberg’s inclination for sexist commentary, the hostile workplace allegations cannot be dismissed as a relic of the distant past: The company has faced eight discrimination suits since the former mayor regained his perch as president and CEO in 2014. Five are ongoing, and they are likely to dog Bloomberg as he pursues the Democratic nomination over the next year. The most recent, which alleges that the company fired an employee on the sales team while she was undergoing cancer treatment, was filed on October 31.
Lawyers contacted by Business Insider said they were aware of other, previously unreported complainants, and that they expected more suits to be filed.
Loeser, Bloomberg’s campaign spokesman, declined to comment for this story, referring questions to Bloomberg LP.
A Bloomberg LP spokesman declined to comment on the two-decade record of allegations against Michael Bloomberg and Bloomberg LP, and referred a reporter to Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropic support for women’s causes and to the company’s “Advancing Women” web page, where he is quoted: “We are dedicated to empowering the women working at Bloomberg across every level and every function. Through our professional development programs, industry-leading initiatives and inclusive policies and benefits, we are advancing gender equality both at Bloomberg and beyond.”
The recent crop of allegations are remarkably consistent with descriptions of Bloomberg LP in the ’90s. In 1995, a lawyer suing the company for harassment wrote in a filing, “The impression is that the girls are there for [Michael] Bloomberg and his managers to play with. But most of the girls don’t like it. It was a totally sexualized, predatory atmosphere that made women feel a loss of self-esteem and depression.”
More than 20 years later, after Bloomberg had left the company for three terms as mayor and returned to take the helm again, another lawyer wrote: “Bloomberg [LP]’s hostile work environment bred a reckless playground to target young, female, naive employees aspiring to have a career at Bloomberg for sex.”
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‘The Bloomberg culture is completely derived from Mike’
Michael Bloomberg founded Innovative Market Systems in 1981 and five years later renamed it Bloomberg LP. Since then, nearly every major product the company has created or acquired has carried its founder’s name, including Bloomberg News, Bloomberg Television, Bloomberg Businessweek, and its flagship offering, the Bloomberg Terminal.
But the relationship between Bloomberg the man and Bloomberg the company runs deeper than branding. Because Bloomberg LP is not publicly traded, its founder and chief executive exercises extensive control over its operations, including its news stories and editorial policies. Bloomberg LP reporters are often forbidden from writing about Michael Bloomberg; in a recent newsroom memo, top editor John Micklethwait acknowledged that the editorial board of Bloomberg LP’s opinion division reflected the views of the company’s founder.
Indeed, Bloomberg as a company boasts of how singularly Michael Bloomberg’s personality has shaped the firm.
“At Bloomberg, we’re proud of our company culture: a fast-paced, transparent environment that challenges and empowers our employees to find smart solutions to complex problems,” reads the company’s website. “In the words of Bloomberg’s Head of Human Resources Ken Cooper, who’s known Mike Bloomberg for more than 30 years, the company’s defining culture is intrinsic to who Mike is…. The Bloomberg culture is completely derived from Mike.”
Despite the prominence of his role, Michael Bloomberg has largely evaded scrutiny over his company’s atmosphere — Business Insider identified several suits that have never been reported, and those that have been reported never rose to the level of major campaign issues during his time in New York City politics — and waved off allegations of misconduct as “extortion” attempts from lying women.
“Mike Bloomberg has an attitude of disdain for [this] proceeding,” wrote one attorney who represented a former Bloomberg executive in a filing with the New York Division of Human Rights in the ’90s. “Apparently he takes the filing ‘as a joke’ and that he is ‘laughing’ at it and thinks he is ‘untouchable’ and can continue to ‘behave any way he likes.'”
That attorney, Bonnie Josephs, told Business Insider in an interview that her investigation found an atmosphere of sexual harassment at Bloomberg LP. At the time, her client described it as “demeaning and hostile.”
“I think it’s important for anybody running for public office to have their entire life’s work known and how they conducted themselves,” Josephs said. “The public needs to know who they are being asked to vote for.”
In 2016, a 26-year-old Bloomberg LP staffer alleged that she was ‘drugged, raped, and tormented’ by her boss
The most recent woman to allege in court that she was raped by her boss while employed at Bloomberg LP is identified in filings as “Margaret Doe.” According to a complaint she filed in New York’s Bronx County Supreme Court in 2016, she worked at Bloomberg from 2012 to 2015. She was 22 when she was hired, on the recommendation of a senior employee who was a friend of her father. She alleged that her direct supervisor, Nicholas Ferris, sexually assaulted her and provided her opiates while she worked selling newsletter subscriptions in the marketing department. The case is ongoing.
The allegations are harrowing. Doe’s 54-page complaint details many months of harassment from Ferris, who the complaint says “drugged, raped, and tormented” her. The complaint alleges that Ferris raped Doe on two separate occasions while she was incapacitated, showed up to Doe’s mother’s 50th birthday party, and sent Doe links to videos he made, including one that shows “a Lego man and Barbie doll doing drugs and engaging in sexual acts on a bed.”
Both Bloomberg LP and Ferris have denied Doe’s allegations in court documents. Doe’s lawyer, Donna Clancy, declined to comment for the record.
Ferris’ attorney did not respond to several requests for comment.
“We terminated Ferris in early November 2015,” a Bloomberg spokesman said, “well before any complaints were made against him. We discovered inappropriate conduct through our own compliance tools, investigated it thoroughly, and acted appropriately. We feel our systems for uncovering inappropriate behavior in our workplace worked as they should.”
Doe claimed that her three years at Bloomberg LP transformed her from an eager-to-please recent college graduate into an anxious and depressed employee who became dependent on Ferris for pills, which, Doe said, he hid around the office like Easter eggs for her to find. Doe left the company on a prolonged medical leave in October 2015. Ferris was terminated two months later, according to the complaint. According to a source familiar with the case, Bloomberg LP terminated Doe roughly two years later, after her medical-leave benefits expired.
In addition to Ferris’ conduct, Doe’s complaint describes a work environment where male employees used the internal Bloomberg chat system, known as Instant Bloomberg, or IB, to rate the attractiveness of female colleagues on a numeric scale. They would also gather at “the Link,” a highly trafficked office throughway in the Bloomberg headquarters, to “gawk” at women, the complaint claims.
A Bloomberg spokesman said of the IB chat allegation, “If we found an employee doing that, the employee involved would be disciplined and likely fired.”
Though Doe didn’t accuse Michael Bloomberg of any direct impropriety, she named him personally as a defendant, alleging that he created and encouraged the workplace environment with “sexist and sexually charged behavior.”
In October, a judge dismissed the claims against Michael Bloomberg. Doe has appealed that ruling. Doe’s legal team will seek to depose Michael Bloomberg whether he is reinstated as a defendant or not, a source familiar with the case told Business Insider.
Ferris’ conduct is at the heart of another complaint, filed in New York state court against Bloomberg personally as well as Bloomberg LP, in August 2018 by Johnna Ayers, who replaced Ferris as global business director of the newsletter division. Ayers, who is also being represented by Clancy, described Bloomberg LP as a “sexually charged, uninhibited professional and social environment.” Her complaint says she was terminated after she discovered that Ferris had spent more than $40,000 of company money on meals and trips for him and his female direct reports.
She tried to push him away and screamed ‘Get off!’ but he didn’t stop, she said
Twenty years before Doe’s ordeal, another young woman alleged that she went through a remarkably similar trauma at Bloomberg LP, according to court records. Mary Ann Olszewski was 25 years old when she was hired as a sales rep in the New York office in 1993. Almost immediately, according to court records, she encountered what she described as a “hostile environment of persistent sexual harassment.” Her male superiors passed around blow-up sex dolls as jokes, asked her if she wore thong underwear, and made crude references to sex. Michael Bloomberg himself, she claimed, set the tone and “engaged in a pattern and practice of … sexual degradation of women.”
He regularly made sexual comments about female underlings, she said, saying things such as “I’d like to do that piece of meat” or “Look at that nice piece of ass.”
When one female coworker told Michael Bloomberg that she had become engaged, Olszewski said, he replied, “Is he that big that you need him every day?” In a deposition obtained by Business Insider, Olszewski said she frequently caught him leering at her: “I would say at least twenty times. Reaching up for things and feeling someone looking at me, turning and seeing Mike Bloomberg directly looking at my skirt going up and giving me a little look, like a sexual look.” In his own deposition, Michael Bloomberg denied leering at Olszewski.
After two months on the job, Olszewski went on a business trip to Chicago with colleagues. There, at an afterwork group dinner, she met Bryan Lewis, then an application specialist at Bloomberg LP. According to Olszewski’s 1997 deposition, Lewis joked about who in their party was going to “get it” first that night, pressured Olszewski to drink, and insisted that she come back to his hotel room at the end of the evening.
“It was like a pressure-filled situation,” she said in the deposition. “I was like, well, he is a manager or whatever, so I said, ‘I guess so.'”
At the hotel, Olszewski said, Lewis told her it was too late for her to find a cab back to her hotel and that she should sleep there. As she lay down on the hotel bed in her clothes and tried to sleep, she said, Lewis climbed on top of her and raped her. She tried to push him away and screamed “Get off!” but he didn’t stop, she said.
After the assault, she said, she felt “paralyzed.” She told no one at Bloomberg. Three months later, Lewis was promoted to become Olszewski’s direct manager. He repeatedly inquired about her personal life, she said, showing her brochures for sex toys and encouraging her to try them, and messaging her pager with the phone number of a sex shop. She also said he kept important sales accounts away from her because of her “refusal to succumb to Lewis’ sexual advances and her objections and complaints about his sexually harassing behavior.”
In May 1995, Olszewski said, she told Lewis’ boss about the assault and demanded that she be reassigned to another manager. She was fired in August of that year. Bloomberg and Lewis denied the claims in her lawsuit. Lewis said in a deposition that he and Olszewski’s sexual liaison was consensual and that he never harassed or targeted her, and they were granted summary judgment on default after Olszewski’s attorney failed to meet a filing deadline. Olszewski appealed the dismissal until 2001, when the case was closed because of a lack of activity from Olszewski four months before Bloomberg formally announced his candidacy for mayor of New York.
Olszewski did not respond to repeated requests for comment and has never publicly addressed the case since filing it. The court record does not indicate that the case was settled, and no one involved has said that Olszewski received a settlement payment. But six days after the case was closed, she moved into a luxury condominium in Miami, according to the Village Voice‘s Wayne Barrett, who was the first to report the details of her case.
“I did not settle and am unaware of any settlement associated with this case,” Lewis said in a statement through a spokeswoman for Intellicheck, a technology firm where he is now the CEO. “There was no truth to these allegations as was evidenced by the fact that the case was dismissed with prejudice in 2001.”
‘All you need is some black who doesn’t even have to speak English to rescue it from a burning building!’ Bloomberg allegedly told an employee who had trouble finding childcare.
Although the allegations in Olszewski’s suit are shocking, it was a complaint in federal court in New York filed by former executive Sekiko Sakai Garrison that caused Bloomberg LP the biggest headache in the ’90s. Garrison joined Bloomberg as a sales executive in 1989. In 1997, she sued Michael Bloomberg and Bloomberg LP over gender discrimination, alleging that after she informed Michael Bloomberg that she was pregnant, he told her to “kill it” and complained about the number of pregnant women in the office.
“Plaintiff was terminated by defendants because she was a pregnant Japanese woman who had previously complained, and otherwise expressed disgust and outrage, regarding the hostile and discriminatory work environment at Bloomberg LP,” her complaint read. “Michael Bloomberg and his executives subjected plaintiff and other female employees to repeated and unwelcome sexual comments, repeated and unwelcome sexual overtures, and repeated and unwelcome overt sexual gestures, including unauthorized touching and inappropriate acts.”
Michael Bloomberg and several other male executives, Garrison said, personally encouraged women in sales to wear sexually provocative clothing, which they said would help them move up the company’s ranks. Those who were considered less attractive or were married were ridiculed, while new mothers or recently married women were denied business opportunities and received pay cuts and inferior bonuses compared to their male counterparts, she said.
It was Garrison’s case — which began in the New York Division of Human Rights before moving to federal court — that provided the laundry list of allegations of wildly sexist comments that have plagued Michael Bloomberg for years. Among the statements that Garrison and others allege that Michael Bloomberg made, according to court records and New York Division of Human Rights filings:
In October 1989, to a newly hired female salesperson following a meeting: “If [the clients] told you to lay down and strip naked so they could fuck you, would you do that, too?”
In 1990, to Garrison: “If only you had legs and an ass like Cybill Shepherd.”
In June 1991, after seeing Garrison speaking with a TV news anchor at an event in Central Park: “You just want to fuck him.”
In 1993, to Garrison while pointing to a newly hired older female employee and an overweight male salesperson: “If you had to, would you rather do that or that?”
In 1993, to Garrison: “You still dating your boyfriend? You giving him good blow jobs?”
In 1993, after learning that a female salesperson who recently had a baby was having difficulty finding a nanny: “It’s a fucking baby! All it does is eat and shit! It doesn’t know the difference between you and anyone else! All you need is some black who doesn’t even have to speak English to rescue it from a burning building!”
The same coworker said that when her childcare issues persisted, Bloomberg erupted again: “He was spitting vehemently … He insulted me, accused me of never wanting to work in the first place, and ‘all you rich kids,’ etc etc. He said, ‘I should have known it was coming, I should be happy to get rid of you. Once you leave you can never step foot in here. I never want to see your face again.”
In 1994, after seeing Garrison’s engagement ring: “What, is this guy dumb and blind? What the hell is he marrying you for?”
A week later, to Garrison: “Still engaged? What, is he that good in bed, or did your father pay him off to get rid of you?”
In the spring of 1994, to a male employee while staring at that employee’s girlfriend, who also worked at Bloomberg LP: “That is one great piece of ass. You must be a great fuck.”
In the summer of 1994, after clients in Mexico were having issues receiving service due to poor telephone-line connections: “I don’t give a shit about those Mexican jumping beans. They are all hung up about the Alamo anyway.”
In 1994, to Garrison: “Don’t like that dress. Your ass looks huge in it.”
In 1994, to Garrison after noticing her return from lunch with a Tiffany shopping bag: “You are a real Jap!”
In 1994, before the company Christmas party, after directing Garrison’s attention to a younger female employee who had just changed into a cocktail dress: “If you looked like that … I would do you in a second.”
At a company sales conference in Toronto in September 1996: “I would like nothing more in life than to have Sharon Stone sit on my face.”
As one of Garrison’s former coworkers put it in a witness statement, “Mike Bloomberg has a big ego. He is charismatic and flirtatious. He swaggers. He is cocky. He has a mouth and exercises little restraint. He can lose his temper and say anything.”
For Garrison, the “Kill it!” remark in April 1995 was the final straw. According to court records, she interpreted her boss’ words as a command to terminate the pregnancy if she wanted to keep her job. When she told her managers about the incident, she alleged, they told her to ignore the comments, forget it ever happened, and not to complain. She was told, she said, that if she did speak out, she would be terminated.
She was fired a month later. In 2000 the case was settled for undisclosed terms.
Multiple Bloomberg LP employees said Michael Bloomberg was aware that one senior executive preyed on young women, and did nothing
In the more than 20 years’ worth of legal records reviewed by Business Insider, a repeated accusation from former employees is that Michael Bloomberg’s public attitudes toward women directly set the tone for a sexualized environment.
“There were years of comments of a sexual nature at Bloomberg,” read notes from a witness interview with former Bloomberg LP employee Jim Feingold that Bonnie Josephs, Garrison’s attorney, filed with the New York Division of Human Rights. “In his opinion, Mike Bloomberg started and encouraged it.”
One senior employee who thrived at Bloomberg LP was Lou Eccleston, who reported directly to Michael Bloomberg in various management roles, including CEO of Bloomberg Tradebook. Eccleston was not named as a defendant in any lawsuits by Bloomberg LP employees, but multiple employees accused him in court records and New York Division of Human Rights filings of preying on women with impunity at Bloomberg LP, with Mike Bloomberg’s full knowledge.
“The sexualized attitude comes from the top: Mike Bloomberg and Lou Eccleston,” read the notes of Josephs’ interview with Olszewski filed with the New York Division of Human Rights. “We saw Lou drink and proposition girls to come up to his room.”
According to several witness statements, Eccleston openly flirted with female employees, inappropriately touched them at the office and social gatherings, excessively drank at work events, and engaged in sexual relationships with coworkers. According to one witness statement filed with the New York Division of Human Rights: “Lou Eccleston is the biggest sleaze in the world. There are two ways to get ahead with Eccleston: Kiss his ass, kiss his penis.”
The employee contended that Michael Bloomberg was well aware of the allegations against Eccleston: “Mike Bloomberg knew all about what Lou was doing. If five girls want to sleep with Lou, that was O.K.”
Multiple records, including a sworn statement from former Bloomberg LP employee Rowland Hunt, described an office Christmas party in 1990 at which Eccleston did “body shots” with several female employees under his authority. “‘Body shots’ consist of embracing and licking salt off the neck, kissing, squeezing, leg up,” read Hunt’s statement. “It was a ribald scene.” The statement went on to describe a “rumor that Lou Eccleston had slept with one of the female employees who got pregnant.”
Eccleston’s behavior bothered Hunt so much that, according to his statement, he confronted Michael Bloomberg directly. “After the Christmas party experience, I lost respect for management and I was not happy at work. I met with Mike Bloomberg in February 1991 and told him I didn’t see eye-to-eye with Lou Eccleston,” Hunt’s statement said. “Mike insisted I take my concerns directly to Lou. In March, Lou called me to talk in Mike Bloomberg’s office. I told him that I had lost respect for him as a professional and as a boss. Lou’s response was, ‘You’re fired.'”
Hunt could not be reached for comment.
Eccleston stayed on at Bloomberg LP in senior roles for more than a decade after he fired Hunt. He rose to managing director and left in 2002. He is now the CEO of TMX Group, a Canadian financial-services firm.
Business Insider contacted TMX Group seeking comment from Eccleston. A TMX Group spokesperson replied, “While TMX Group has no comment on these specific allegations at this time, we take allegations of this nature seriously and the TMX Group board is looking into this matter.”
One female Bloomberg LP employee says she was called a ‘Guyanese bitch’ by her boss. Another says her boss told her, ‘I want to eat your pussy.’
The Doe and Olszewski cases are the two most lurid and disturbing accusations of misconduct and mismanagement that have been directed at Bloomberg LP, but they bookend a steady stream of claims over the past two decades describing harassment, intimidation, and discrimination at all levels of the company both during Michael Bloomberg’s tenures as president and CEO, and during his three terms as mayor of New York.
“Large companies are always going to have personnel matters,” said Paula Brantner, president and principal of PB Work Solutions, a consulting firm focused on sexual harassment and toxic-workplace prevention. “But seeing that many lawsuits does raise some concern.”
Brantner said common allegations across multiple different complaints in particular are indicators of possible cultural problems at a workplace and that leadership is crucial to preventing situations where employees feel license to abuse their power.
“It’s really important for the head of the company to make a strong statement and set the tone for everyone else,” she said. “When that doesn’t happen, the toxic culture can take hold and thrive. What we’ve seen in some of these other situations is that there is a pattern of conduct, it’s condoned at the top level, and it’s seen that the way to get rid of it is to settle cases and require non-disclosure agreements.”
“I believe that there is a culture at the Bloomberg NYC location that is not adequately addressing discrimination and employee complaints,” said Kara Miller, a lawyer representing former Bloomberg employee Andreea Orent, who sued the company in August 2017 alleging discrimination and unlawful retaliation over disability. “That’s causing more lawsuits than another company might face, which might have more procedures.”
Miller said she’s aware of other “actions” and “allegations of discrimination” at the company, though declined to go into detail, citing confidentiality.
Bloomberg currently has more than 20,000 employees, and few companies of that scale have avoided discrimination complaints. Thomson Reuters, for instance, a Bloomberg competitor of similar size, has received 26 employment-discrimination complaints in state and federal courts since 1996 compared to Bloomberg LP’s 37, according to a Business Insider review.
Among the more recent allegations against Bloomberg are those of Rachel Itwaru, an experienced sales rep who joined the firm in 2006 at an annual salary of $120,000. According to a complaint she filed in federal court in New York in 2011, Itwaru was subjected to “hostile and sexually aggressive” comments from her team members, including comments about what she looked like naked and a manager who told her she should use her looks to her advantage during client meetings and to perform sexual favors for clients.
When she complained about her colleagues’ behavior, her complaint alleges, she was retaliated against and called a “Guyanese bitch” by her boss. In September 2008, Itwaru was abruptly fired and forced out of the building before she could clean out her desk.
Business Insider located Itwaru, who now appears to go by a different first and last name, through a public-records search. Neither she nor her attorney at the time, Abdul Karim Hassan, responded to requests for comment about the case, which was settled for undisclosed terms in 2012. Bloomberg LP denied all the complaint’s allegations, according to court records.
According to that complaint, Lisser’s manager, Brian Schuler, repeatedly made sexual comments to Lisser about her figure, weight, and appearance, massaged her shoulders, looked down her blouse, and texted her about other female coworkers, remarking on the appearance of their breasts or who they were sleeping with.
After she complained about Schuler’s behavior to human resources, Lisser’s complaint says, her boss told her “she was going down.” Later, after Lisser asked to go home because she felt physically ill from his remarks, Schuler told her: “If you think that little slap on the wrist that I got from [HR] was going to make this go away, you only dug your grave deeper.” Soon after, Lisser was forced to hand in her resignation, according to the complaint. The case was voluntarily dismissed in 2017. The court record does not reflect whether it was settled.
Lisser’s attorney, Michael Chinitz, did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails from Business Insider seeking comment. Reached by phone, Lisser briefly began to describe working for Bloomberg before a male voice heard in the background began shouting “No comment!” and she hung up.
Schuler, now a senior manager at the technology company Sedgwick, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. In court filings, Bloomberg LP and Schuler denied all allegations in the complaint.
In 2004, a network-security technician named Shimba Jones sued Bloomberg LP for what she described as “a pattern and practice of unwelcome, humiliating, egregious, and reprehensible sexual harassment.” Jones alleged that her supervisor had repeatedly rubbed his body against her own, targeted her with sexually degrading comments — including “I want to eat your pussy” and “I think about you when I get horny” — and retaliated against her when she refused to have sex with him. She also accused Bloomberg LP of failing to protect her and sabotaging her career after she complained about him.
After she filed her complaint, the company terminated Jones, saying that she worked on a freelance business during work hours, and it countersued her over breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. Jones later amended her complaint to accuse Bloomberg LP of further retaliation.
Bloomberg LP denied Jones’ claims in court records.
Depositions given by several Bloomberg employees, including a colleague of Jones who said he directly witnessed Jones’ supervisor harassing “once or twice a week,” corroborated her claims, according to court records reviewed by Business Insider. In one deposition, the Bloomberg LP human-resources staffer who informed Jones of her termination couldn’t recall basic details about her own role, and repeated some version of “I don’t know” nearly 300 times.
Jones and Bloomberg LP settled before the case went to trial. The terms of the settlement are unknown. Jones did not respond to a request for comment.
Bloomberg could also face liability for the conduct of one of the most high-profile alleged abusers in the #MeToo era: Charlie Rose.
Although Rose was not a Bloomberg LP employee, he filmed his interview show in a studio at the company’s Manhattan headquarters. And, crucially, his staff of 15 to 20 producers — many of whom Rose was accused of groping, pawing, verbally abusing, and sexually assaulting over the course of years — were on Bloomberg LP’s payroll and received their benefits through the company. The arrangement, which, according to company lore, was cemented over a handshake between Rose and Michael Bloomberg at a Manhattan social event in the ’90s — was highly informal, according to former Charlie Rose employees who spoke with Business Insider, and offered Rose the opportunity to abuse members of his staff with little supervision.
In September, Rose’s long-time make-up artist, Gina Riggi, sued Rose, his production company, and Bloomberg LP over sexual discrimination and harassment. Riggi claimed that, since Rose’s staff was paid by Bloomberg LP, was issued Bloomberg company IDs, Bloomberg email addresses, and Bloomberg company benefits, she and her supervisors were Bloomberg LP employees. The company “knew or should have known of the unlawful discrimination, but failed to address it and instead … aided and abetted it,” Riggi alleged. Her case is ongoing.
According to two former Charlie Rose employees, when the show trimmed staff during the 2008 financial crisis, Bloomberg human-resources staffers attended a meeting announcing the terminations and administered the layoff process.
When the accusations against Rose first surfaced, Bloomberg expressed skepticism, telling The New York Times, “You know, is it true? You look at people that say it is, but we have a system where you have — presumption of innocence is the basis of it.” He added that Bloomberg LP had “never had a complaint, whatsoever,” about Rose and that the company “checked very carefully” after the allegations emerged, suggesting that it had an employment relationship with Rose’s staff.
In court filings, Bloomberg LP denied Riggi’s allegations. A Bloomberg spokesperson told Business Insider that Rose’s staff “were employees of Charlie Rose Inc., not Bloomberg LP.”
Riggi’s attorney, Patrick Walsh, declined to comment for the record.
The most high-profile case against Bloomberg LP came while its namesake was on leave to serve as New York City’s mayor. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a gender-discrimination suit in federal court in New York in 2007 on behalf of 29 women who alleged pregnancy discrimination. The case was litigated for six years before being dismissed by a federal judge, who ruled that the EEOC failed to assemble sufficient evidence of discrimination, or give the company a sufficient opportunity to remedy the claims before it filed suit. “‘J’accuse!’ is not enough in court,” the judge wrote. “Evidence is required.”
Michael Bloomberg was deposed in that case, but the deposition was never made public.
‘Witness thinks Bloomberg is vindictive, and fears retaliation’
Court records and attorney’s files from Bloomberg LP’s long history of defending sexual-harassment allegations show that the company — and the man — often dismissed employee complaints as baseless and sought to attack and intimidate accusers.
During a deposition taken by Olszewski’s attorney in 1998 — first reported by the Village Voice in 2001 — Michael Bloomberg described Garrison’s and Olszewski’s claims as “extortion,” to which he refused to capitulate.
“I have always been against the kind of extortion that the press says most companies jump to when somebody falsely alleges inappropriate behavior,” he said, according to a copy of the deposition obtained by Business Insider.
“To the extent that Olszewski alleges a hostile working environment by co-workers who create a sexually degrading environment for women, do you consider that extortion?” Olszewski’s lawyer asked.
“Yes, I do,” Bloomberg replied.
A statement that the company issued to a reporter at the time about Garrison and Olszewski echoed the boss’ sentiment: “We question the motives of these two claimants.”
In the same deposition, Michael Bloomberg suggested that he didn’t believe rape allegations that lacked eyewitness corroboration.
Asked what he would regard as “proof” of Olszewski’s claim, Bloomberg responded, “I guess an unimpeachable third-party witness.”
“Do you think that’s possible in most instances of date rape?” the attorney asked.
“I don’t know whether this was date rape,” Bloomberg replied.
“Well, describe for me how there could be a third-party witness to confirm or deny the truthfulness of her allegation,” the attorney replied.
“There are times when three people are together,” Bloomberg said.
He also said in the deposition that he doubted Olszewski’s allegation because she waited two years before coming forward. When Olszewski’s attorney asked if he was aware that most victims of sexual assault never come forward, Bloomberg replied: “If they don’t report it, how would I know?”
Case documents obtained by Business Insider contain multiple allegations that Bloomberg LP’s team took active measures to discredit and intimidate plaintiffs and potential witnesses.
“All women who have complained to me are afraid of retaliation,” Garrison said in a statement filed with the New York Division of Human Rights. “In fact, people who complain to protect their personal rights or professional status at the company are labeled by Eccleston as ‘troublemakers’ and are subject to financial or territorial retribution. People who are negatively ‘marked’ by Eccleston have their salaries reduced, sales territory reduced, or are made to feel so uncomfortable they leave the firm.”
Other witness statements gathered by Garrison’s attorney, Bonnie Josephs, and filed with the New York Division of Human Rights describe their fear of retaliation from the company, and efforts by Bloomberg LP attorneys to spread negative rumors about accusers.
One anonymous witness told Josephs that “management asked him to say bad things that were not true” about Olszewski. “He thought Bloomberg management was trying to make up a bad reputation about Mary Ann to offset her claims against Brian Lewis [sic] for rape,” the filing says. “He was also approached by Bloomberg [LP]’s lawyers to say bad things about Mary Ann. He refused because there were no bad things to say.”
In another filing, Josephs alleged that “Bloomberg [LP] is trying to make people say that Mary Ann was a ‘slut’.”
In a 1995 memo that Garrison wrote to Josephs, she alleged that “there are threats and high levels of intimidation that are terrifying people and keeping them quiet.” Garrison recounted a conversation with a former Bloomberg coworker who told her that “she was terrified to say anything” to corroborate Garrison’s claims because “she believed that Bloomberg will somehow find out and that she will lose her job.” Another former coworker told Garrison that a rumor was circulating at the firm that Bloomberg had filed a slander lawsuit against Garrison and that he intended to “wipe [her] out financially.” When Garrison said that wasn’t true, the coworker replied, “I guess they want to intimidate people into not saying anything and to discourage anyone else from suing him.”
Multiple witnesses reached by Josephs and Garrison, according to contemporaneous interview notes obtained by Business Insider, expressed fear of retaliation from Michael Bloomberg.
“Witness thinks Bloomberg is vindictive, and fears retaliation if he speaks openly,” read Josephs’ notes from one witness interview filed with the New York Division of Human Rights.
Another witness interviewed by Josephs who no longer worked at the company said that Michael Bloomberg “hit on her once” but that she was “afraid Bloomberg will use his power with her present employer to retaliate if she comes forward,” according to Josephs’ notes.
Another former employee, who told Josephs that Bloomberg would frequently ask her, “Are you going to get laid tonight?”, said she believed that she had a case but feared that Bloomberg’s power extended to the judicial system.
“The witness is aware that she has sexual harassment claims against Bloomberg,” Josephs wrote in a witness statement filed with the New York Division of Human Rights, “but she fears retaliation. She worries that Bloomberg can get to the trier of fact, or to her current employer.”
Despite Michael Bloomberg’s remarks about standing up to “extortion,” many of the cases that have been filed against him appear to have been settled, a process that often involves the use of non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, and non-disparagement clauses to keep the parties from publicly saying what happened to them. While NDAs are common in legal disputes, their use by Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, R. Kelly, and Donald Trump has been cited as a factor in the impunity with which many men abused and harassed female coworkers before the #MeToo movement.
Business Insider asked Bloomberg LP and a campaign spokesperson for Michael Bloomberg whether, in light of his presidential run, the company and the candidate will release women with whom they have entered into NDAs — involving both public litigation or private claims — from their obligations to remain silent. A Bloomberg LP spokesperson declined to answer.
“I think everybody needs to know whether Bloomberg paid any money and how much so as not to reveal [allegations of harassment],” Josephs said. “Because that means he’s not taking public responsibility for the acts.”
‘I always have a dream that one day I will be up on the witness stand, testifying against Mike Bloomberg’
In contrast to the negative allegations about Michael Bloomberg in lawsuits and witness statements filed with the New York Division of Human Rights, there are multiple references in the court file to his support for women in the workplace, including his belief that women are better salespeople than men. And as The New York Times recently reported, he has a long record of appointing women to powerful positions:
“He elevated women to leading roles at City Hall, including Janette Sadik-Khan to transportation commissioner; Amanda Burden to city planning commissioner; and his longtime top adviser, Patricia E. Harris, to first deputy mayor, the first woman to serve in that role. As New York’s mayor and in the years since — he left office in 2013 — Mr. Bloomberg has donated tens of millions of dollars to support reproductive rights and women’s health causes around the world, his aides said.”
At Bloomberg LP there are women in senior leadership. Although the succession plan he announced in 2016 will leave the reins to two men — Tom Secunda and Peter Grauer — when steps down, the company’s “Advancing Women at Bloomberg” website says that the chief media officer, manager of fixed-income risk, and regulatory engineering, head of content for Tic Toc by Bloomberg, and director of the Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa are all women.
The company’s chief financial officer, Patti Roskill, and chief administrative officer, Beth Mazzeo, are also women. Roskill sits on the management committee.
And like Harris, some female Bloomberg employees have managed to rise through the ranks. Leslie van Orsdel, for instance, was a colleague of Mary Ann Olszewski in the mid-’90s. In Olszewski’s deposition, she recalled confiding in Van Orsdel, saying, “I can’t stand our environment.”
“That’s the way it is right now, the environment at Bloomberg,” Van Orsdel replied, according to Olszewski.
“This is like sexual harassment,” Olszewski said.
“I know,” Van Orsdel replied, according to Olszewski’s deposition. “I always have a dream that one day I will be up on the witness stand, testifying against Mike Bloomberg.”
According to her LinkedIn profile, Van Orsdel is now Bloomberg’s global head of client-risk engagement and risk assurance. Reached for comment, she said, “I can’t imagine ever saying that. Mike has always been an amazing, inspiring person to work for, and the work environment at Bloomberg has only helped me thrive and succeed.”
John Cook and David Rauf contributed reporting.
This article is based on nearly 40 lawsuits filed against Bloomberg LP