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Four female financial consultants sued Citigroup Inc.’s Smith Barney division on Thursday, accusing the brokerage firm of systematically denying equal opportunities to its women employees. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, seeks class action status and asks for an end to gender discrimination at the firm, back pay and related damages. No dollar amount was specified, but attorney Kelly Dermody said the “potential damages are significant” because up to 5,000 women could qualify for the class action. In particular, the women charged that Smith Barney distributes accounts and business opportunities disproportionately to men regardless of qualifications. The suit also claims that women brokers are rarely allowed to partner with other brokers, thus depriving them of a channel for lucrative new business. “Smith Barney is still making money the old-fashioned way — by paying women less,” said plaintiff Renee Fassbender Amochaev, 36, who said she was dismissed from the firm’s Santa Rosa, Calif. office after complaining of discrimination. The other plaintiffs are Kathryn Varner, a former Smith Barney financial consultant and vice president in the company’s Santa Rosa, Calif., office, Judy Weil, a financial consultant in the company’s Walnut Creek. Calif., office, and Deborah Orlando, a former Smith Barney financial consultant and vice president in Santa Rosa. The lawsuit stems partly from efforts by the National Council on Women’s Organizations — best known for its efforts to open the all-male Augusta National golf club to women — to push for changes at Wall Street firms. That group last year demanded meetings with brokerage executives who belong to Augusta, and invited contact by women at the firms who felt they had experienced discrimination. “These are very brave women to come out publicly and we hope it will empower other women to do the same,” said Martha Burk, chair of the women’s organization. “This is the first lawsuit, but it is likely not to be the last.” Smith Barney spokeswoman Kim Atwater said she could not comment in detail on the lawsuit but said the company has promoted “significant diversity initiatives in the last several years.” Atwater said Smith Barney is “among the most progressive of securities firms in terms of providing a professional and respectful work environment.” The lawsuit puts the spotlight back on a firm that has tried to rebuild its image after settling a damaging gender-discrimination case several years ago. Smith Barney was the subject of a widely publicized 1996 lawsuit involving hundreds of female workers. The case, which the firm agreed to settle in 1998, included lurid stories of the “boom-boom room,” a basement party space at a Smith Barney office on New York’s Long Island that became a haven for male workers’ lewd behavior. That lawsuit was followed by a string of highly publicized cases against Wall Street firms, alleging long-standing discrimination against female employees. In one closely watched case, Morgan Stanley agreed last July to pay $54 million to settle a suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That lawsuit accused the brokerage firm of denying promotions to scores of women and giving higher salaries to men who produced less. Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case filed Thursday said their clients are trying to change the culture of Wall Street. While “boom boom” rooms may have gone out of style, women still suffer quiet discrimination, the attorneys said. “This isn’t an isolated experience � professional women are routinely paid less and denied promotions,” attorney Adam T. Klein said. The case is Fassbender Amochaev v. Citigroup Global Markets Inc., dba Smith Barney. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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