Despite civil rights laws, demonstrations and court cases won, racial discrimination is alive, well and kicking in the good ol’ U.S. of A. And to make matters worse, it’s thriving without being checked in the corporate halls of Wall Street and in companies, large and small, in just about every major city across the country.
For people of color, speaking up may bring even more “punishment,” including more harassment, demotions, lack of promotions and even threats of physical harm.
Such are the cases of Rebecca Allen (a Black banker at Goldman Sachs) and John Jones (not his real name). “Jones” is an African American of extraordinary talent – backed up by a stellar education – who possesses an uncanny ability to analyze and predict financial matters at an almost non-human rate.
Indeed, when it comes to the art of artificial intelligence, “J.J.” is a master craftsman.
You’d think that would make him a millionaire, heck, billionaire! But thanks to some very unscrupulous executives at a major financial firm, J.J. is nowhere near the financial status that begets legends of the new millennial class of multi-millionaires.
This is his story, one that is whispered too often by those afraid to step forward, those who have done everything right in terms of education, public service and believing in the American dream. Yet they remain unrecognized, unheralded and certainly not at the financial status of their Anglo counterparts, even when these people of color are “smarter.”
J.J.’s real name can’t be revealed due to the sensitive nature of his filings with the EEOC (racial discrimination), multi-million dollar lawsuit, and his complaint to the SEC (over issues of insider trading). But that doesn’t make his reality any less serious and disparaging.
A stellar background
“J.J.” was born in Louisiana and reared in Texas, and wherever his family lived, his two working, professional parents always reminded him that as an African American, he’d always have to work harder and be smarter.
Even after serving his country in the military, his father dealt with the ugly monster of discrimination. His wife (J.J.’s mother), fought the beast as well, despite the fact that she had two college degrees.
“I had great examples,” J.J. says of his degree-bearing parents. “But we still struggled. My dad taught me… when you’re Black, you need two degrees. When you’re Black, you need more.”
J.J. got into mathematics at a very early age and it was obvious before he even went to school that he had acumen for numbers. After years of education, and accepting unpaid internships to gain experience, J.J. hoped his hard work would translate into financial stability and wealth. The only problem: that stability and wealth – we’re talking millions and millions – were being achieved by folks taking advantage of J.J.’s prediction prowess while they were denying him the riches and advancement he so richly deserved.
Indeed, J.J. knows hardship, yet was never afraid of working hard. After getting into Howard, he had to transfer back to Houston because the money just wasn’t there to afford to go to school away from home at the time.
But he made the best of it and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance and a minor in international business. That would eventually turn into an MBA, which he would achieve while interning and working multiple jobs. Even after all that, the job pickings were slim.
Working harder, being smarter didn’t matter
Discrimination because of his dark complexion was obvious. During interviews, he was always interviewed by non-African American executives, some of which had weaker resumes. The firms seemed very interested based on his stellar academic pedigree, but once he showed up at their offices, the offers never came. It didn’t just happen a few times… it happened nearly 60 times, he says.
One day he went on the Internet and took his picture down from LinkedIn and all the social media sites he could find. Guess what? Suddenly a major firm was very interested and conducted several phone interviews based on his resume alone. And after sending them a copy of his 2013 White Paper that focused on his proprietary knowledge and techniques in advanced econometrics, commodity markets, predictive analytics, finance and methods, he finally received an offer.
But the slights based on his color were not over. Indeed, the deeper he got into the firm, the more obvious it was. He was teaching people who were supposed to be his superiors, but his pay scale and the bonuses he received were well below that of others (non-African Americans).
Even before he got in, the firm gave non-African American candidates, with fewer qualifications, signing bonuses and covered their moving expenses. The firm did not do these things for J.J. But he was eager to gain the experience and show what he could do, so he entered the company determined to make money and prove his value.
Within two short months, it was obvious that J.J. was an exceptional employee.
“One person I worked around (we’ll call him ‘Bob’) was supervised by ‘Mrs. S’ (the same supervisor I had). Despite fewer credentials, Bob was paid more than me, given a signing bonus when hired and provided moving expenses,” explains J.J. “He was removed from his position because of poor job performance and transferred to another group. I was asked to take over all of his duties, but was not promoted.”
This would become a pattern. J.J. would train others, school them on analytics, produce amazingly accurate reports and never get promoted. Sometimes he would make his superiors aware, and they would promise promotions and more credit.
Eventually, once he began providing executive leadership on commodity price predictions on a highly volatile market, it would lead to insider trading by the hierarchy of the company. They would tell investors and the public one thing, while in turn selling their company stock based on J.J.’s predictions, he claims.
No credit where credit was due
J.J.’s presentations became legendary. He was asked on a regular basis to present his analysis and predictions… the only problem was that he often did not receive credit and his superiors were often promoted based on his work.
J.J. explains: “No other analyst, manager, or director on the GM team had their perspective presented to the board. No other analyst was asked to present/lecture the GM team with such a high frequency. Basically, I was playing an executive’s role, but I was not promoted.”
People came and went around him, and he more often than not qualified for their positions. But the firm seemed bent on hiring less qualified (non-African American) candidates and ignoring the gem that was in its midst.
J.J. would complain about being left out of strategic meetings and was told it was an “oversight,” all the while executives in the firm clamored for his presentations/predictions.
“I rightfully pointed out that the firm’s policies of excluding me from networking functions impacted my career opportunities and offered more evidence I was being treated differently from my non-African American peers,” J.J. recalls. But his complaints would go unanswered.
The prophet deals with the ‘good, the bad, and the ugly’
Indeed, they actually reveled at his work, with some nicknaming him “the prophet.” That was actually put in some emails, yet the powers that be still failed to promote him or properly reward him financially.
However, the outside financial community noticed J.J.’s work, especially its accuracy (well outpacing Wall Street consensus, forward curve, etc.) and it was announced he would be receiving an award.
But what did the firm do?
Not only did the company downplay the award, it ironically tried to claim it as its own, in spite of J.J. providing evidence of his prior invention.
The demand for J.J.’s work continued, yet he rarely received credit and sometimes was belittled by the very people who took his work and presented it as their own.
During one meeting, J.J. met with directors and several VPs—all White—within a product line group and was treated “very rudely.” In fact, one of the director’s persistently and intentionally mispronounced J.J’s name and cut him off continuously while he was presenting.
“It was obvious to everyone in attendance that this was done to belittle me,” J.J. recalls. “The manner in which I was spoken to was clearly driven by racism and by pure hatred of the fact that the director was required to listen to me. Even though he did not refer to me as a nigr, it was obvious that he was thinking it.”
J.J. would bring up the unfair treatment to his supervisors, but they would promise his promotions were coming, but they never did. Meanwhile, execs and his peers were receiving six- and seven-figure bonuses as a result of his work, while he would receive substantially less.
Making matters worse, the excessive work, the long hours (90+ hours a week), and the stress of not being treated equally was taking a toll on J.J.
“It’s been hell,” he admits. “I have been black balled; publicly humiliated, and it all destroyed my family. I had a heart attack when I was 39, but I still persevere and push forward.”
Eventually J.J. had enough. He blew the whistle, was fired but started his own company.
His legal actions are underway and it could take possibly years for law enforcement to unravel the chicanery and deception.
According to Vernon A. McKinley, the attorney representing J.J. in his whistleblower complaint before the SEC, “This is a classic tale involving race, ignorance, corporate greed, priceless talent and the gross misappropriation of intellectual property. J.J. was not only known as the ‘Prophet,’ he was the proverbial ‘Goose Who Laid Golden Eggs’.”
McKinley continued: “The fact J.J. is an extremely brilliant African-American male, simply emboldened and compelled the insiders to act upon highly accurate analytical, predictive methods and models developed by J.J. long before his employment with the company. They believed they were too wealthy and far beyond reproach of a well-educated man of color. They were dead wrong.”
With the current political climate, it’s easy to see why these unscrupulous executives thought they could get away with the deception.
“Unfortunately,” McKinley continued, “for these alleged insiders, J.J. meticulously documented and preserved crucially compelling evidence that appears to show more than $100 million of questionable trading activity involving officers and board members during his tenure with the company, more specifically, trading of company stock based upon non-public information they derived from his models. There were no disclosures, only demands to produce more predictions.”
The bitter taste of being treated like a second-class citizen still remains with J.J.
“When I chose this field (analytics), I did it because I thought it was a way to prove my value. It focuses on what you can accomplish as an individual, but it didn’t work out for me. It did work out that way for non-African Americans, though,” he says.
In spite of his trials and tribulation, though, J.J. learned an important lesson: “The more knowledge I gained, the more I was being resented.”
He’s not the only one
A Black banker in Goldman Sachs Group Inc’s personal wealth management unit filed a lawsuit on Aug. 16 accusing the firm of steering top clients to her White colleagues and denying her promotions because of her race, reports Reuters. Rebecca Allen in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan said Goldman’s virtually all-White senior leadership team favors White bankers for promotions and lucrative accounts, so they earn more than Black coworkers.
“Simply put, Goldman Sachs does virtually nothing to hire, promote or develop Black talent, instead focusing its efforts on retaining and promoting white employees to positions of leadership,” Allen said in the complaint.
Goldman Sachs in a statement said the claims were meritless. “Our success depends on our ability to maintain a diverse employee base and we are focused on recruiting, retaining and promoting diverse professionals at all levels.”
Allen, who was hired in 2012, said that last year she was removed from an account she had worked on for three years by Goldman Sachs partner, Christina Minnis. Allen says her supervisor met with Minnis about the decision and said she made racist and anti-Semitic comments about Allen, who is also Jewish. Minnis is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Allen’s lawyers at New York City law firm Wigdor said in a statement that they believed other Black Goldman employees would come forward with similar claims.
“We can expose what is really happening behind the closed doors with regard to the denial of opportunity for entrance and advancement for qualified Black individuals,” the lawyers said.
Wigdor is also representing a group of non-White current and former employees of Fox News Network LLC (FOXA.O) who say in a lawsuit in New York state court that they were belittled and marginalized because of their race. Fox has denied the claims.