It began as an ordinary night for six Bank of America employees, who were out to celebrate the holidays. In mid-December, the members of the firm’s prime brokerage — a division that caters to hedge funds — had gathered at an intimate Lower East Side lounge called Et Al after leaving the team’s gift-exchange party around the corner.
They danced, drank and mingled with the club’s dozens of other patrons. Within weeks, Omeed Malik, the most senior of the bank's employees at the impromptu event, left Bank of America. Soon after, media reports indicated the bank had investigated an accusation of inappropriate behavior by Malik that was lodged by one of the other employees present that night.
But within months, the witnesses were also gone. Two of them left recently. But before that, in late February, reports surfaced that the two other employees were let go after the bank determined they “interfered” with the probe into Malik’s behavior.
One of them, Joe Voboril, a 39-year-old former director within the prime brokerage unit, is fighting back, saying he did no such thing. He filed a claim on Friday alleging that Bank of America had retaliated against, wrongfully terminated and defamed him. The claim was filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a self-policing regulatory body for financial firms.
Voboril, who says in the claim the bank ruined his reputation and stymied several opportunities for positions within Bank of America or at hedge funds, is seeking more than $20 million in damages, attorney’s fees and to have his record cleared. CNBC reviewed his claim, which will be handled through arbitration, outside the public domain. Voboril declined to comment.
After a series of prominent men in Hollywood and on television were ensnared in the #MeToo movement, in which detailed accounts of abuse from victims emerged, some in the media wondered aloud when the spotlight would turn to Wall Street.
But many of the high-profile cases on Wall Street have been met by bankers who are fighting back against claims of inappropriate behavior. Malik, in his own FINRA claim against Bank of America, is seeking $100 million for what he says was defamation tied to his dismissal. Harold Ford, a onetime senator-turned-investment banker at Morgan Stanley, was reportedly fired last year after a journalist said he harassed her. The firm ultimately put out a statement saying that he was not terminated due to sexual misconduct.
Voboril’s attorney, Brian Kennedy, says that his client was collateral damage in Bank of America’s move to use the #MeToo movement to remove employees.
“We stand by our decision to terminate Mr. Voboril,” said Bill Halldin, a spokesman for Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America. “We will review the filing when we receive it.”
In his 60-page claim, Voboril paints the picture of a toxic culture within the bank's equities division. Voboril began at Bank of America in September 2015; he was recruited from a San Francisco-based firm to help Malik bring in new clients to their unit, which works with hedge funds to finance their various trades — including borrowing shares to sell short and bundling securities for sale.