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Salomon Smith Barney has been ordered to pay $3.2 million to a female stockbroker, the first such ruling stemming from a notorious sexual harassment lawsuit against the firm. Three arbitrators imposed the award last week, criticizing the brokerage’s firm and its predecessors for creating “a work place permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insults.” A hearing before the panel is the final stage in a settlement process agreed to by the firm and attorneys for more than 1,900 women who filed claims against the company. About 90 of those women — and about 90 others who participated in a similar lawsuit against Merrill Lynch — could go before arbitrators in coming months, according to an attorney in the case. The award to Tameron Keyes, who still works as a broker in Salomon’s office in Beverly Hills, Calif., is an outgrowth of the infamous “boom boom room” lawsuit filed by three women working in Smith Barney’s Garden City, N.Y., office. That 1996 suit alleged sexual pranks and lewd behavior by male employees in a basement room of the office created a hostile working environment for women. That suit was later expanded to include allegations by 19 female employees around the country, alleging that such behavior was common throughout the firm’s network of offices. The allegations dated back to the early 1990s and included behavior at offices not part of Salomon at the time, including the Shearson Lehman Brothers office in Los Angeles where Keyes worked. The case was settled in 1997, and many of the women who made claims accepted individual settlement offers from Salomon, which as the result of several deals is now a subsidiary of Citigroup. But a small group elected to have their cases heard before arbitrators, an alternative allowed by the settlement, despite the risk they would be awarded nothing. The first such case last year, by a female broker in Tampa, Fla., saw arbitrators dismiss her claim. Keyes’ case was the second to go before arbitrators. In a Dec. 12 decision, the Los Angeles-based panel said Keyes had to endure “insults sufficiently severe and pervasive as to alter the conditions of her employment and to create an abusive working environment.” Even after she brought the problems to the attention of the personnel department, the company failed to adequately investigate, and instead blamed Keyes, the panel said. “We’re disappointed in the outcome but respect the process,” Arda Nazerian, a spokeswoman for Salomon Smith Barney, said Tuesday. Salomon believes it has made “significant strides” in improving the working environment for women since the suit was settled, she said, adding that the company was unlikely to appeal the arbitrator’s decision. A lawyer for Keyes could not immediately be reached for comment. But Linda D. Friedman, one of the lawyers who brought the original lawsuit, said the award is noteworthy, both because of its size and because the process gave Keyes the chance to present her case publicly. “The securities industry has always managed to keep a lid on” employee complaints by settling them behind closed doors in front of arbitrators friendly to employers, said Friedman. “Some of the women wanted very much to have their stories heard in public.” The arbitration panel awarded $1.52 million to Keyes to compensate for economic loss, $150,000 for emotional distress and another $1.52 million in punitive damages. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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