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Lawsuit Claims Ameriprise Tolerated 'Sexually-Harassing Conduct' of FAs

By Alex Padalka June 10, 2021

Ameriprise Financial is facing a lawsuit filed by a former registered client associate who claims that two financial advisors with who she had worked at the firm created an “intolerable” environment for her by their “sexually-harassing” behavior.

In April, Stephanie Henninger filed a civil action in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, alleging that Ameriprise subjected her “to unlawful sexual harassment and retaliation.” The suit claims that since she started her employment with the firm in April 2016 as a registered client associate at Ameriprise’s Center Valley, Pa., location, Henninger “witnessed inappropriate actions and comments” by the financial advisor for whom Henninger provided support.

More specifically, the FA allegedly “frequently” touched “the shoulders, back, arms, or waist of Plaintiff and other female co-employees”; patted “a female co-employee’s buttocks with his water bottle”; said that “a male office advisor ‘probably flosses his d---“; and told Henninger “that a former male colleague” asked him, ‘How is your hot, piece of a—assistant doing?’,” referring to Henninger, among other instances of inappropriate behavior detailed in the suit, according to the suit.

Henninger claims that she complained to supervisors around November 2016 and again around August 2017 about the FA’s alleged “sexually-harassing conduct,” and that her complaint was forwarded to her branch manager. According to the suit, the FA’s conduct went on, however, including an incident in March 2018 in which he allegedly “pulled his pants tight against his groin, revealing a bulge, to ask Plaintiff if she thought the bulge would make his pants fit tighter and he insisted that ‘[he’s] not trying to show [Plaintiff his] thing.’”

Henninger’s suit claims she reported the FA’s conduct again in March 2018 and was told by supervisors that they would try to find somewhere else for her to work, but by November 2018 she was still reporting to the same office with the FA.

Henninger was allegedly placed into a receptionist position in December 2018 and told that she would support the next advisor to work in the office, but when that advisor started in May 2019, another co-employee was given the job, according to the suit.

The suit claims that shortly after Henninger did begin working with another financial advisor, who joined Ameriprise in Bedminster, N.J., in July 2019, that second FA showed her inappropriate photographs from a car show he had attended of a woman being groped by her husband and told Henninger that the couple were “swingers.” Henninger alleges that when she told a supervisor about the second FA’s conduct the next day, the supervisor’s response was “nonchalant.”

'Mental anguish'

The experiences Henninger had with Ameriprise, according to the suit, eventually caused her to have a mental breakdown, and in July 2019, Henninger took a leave of absence. In September 2019, the suit states, Henninger entered a “partial hospitalization program to handle the mental anguish” she suffered at Ameriprise, and remained in the program for about five weeks.

In October 2019, Henninger claims, she learned that she would be returning to work as a receptionist and compliance administrator, which was essentially a demotion, and that she would still work with the second FA. On or around Oct. 25, 2019, according to the suit, Henninger told her supervisors “that the work environment and conditions were so intolerable that she felt she had no choice but to resign.”

Henninger’s suit seeks an award of damages, including compensatory and punitive damages, plus lawyers’ fees, interest and any other relief deemed appropriate by the court.

Henninger had been in the financial services industry since 2009 and had stints at Park Avenue Securities, Oppenheimer & Co. and Northwestern Mutual before joining Ameriprise in 2016, according to BrokerCheck. Since her departure from Ameriprise, she has not registered with another firm, according to her BrokerCheck profile.

The first FA identified in Henninger’s suit has been in industry since 1987 and with Ameriprise since 2016, according to his BrokerCheck record. He remains registered with the firm, according to BrokerCheck.

The second FA identified in the suit entered the industry in 2003 and with Ameriprise, where he remains, since 2019, according to BrokerCheck.

Earlier this week, Ameriprise filed a notice of removal in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, requesting that the lawsuit be removed from the superior court, claiming that the "plaintiff's last known address" in in Pennsylvania.

Neither Ameriprise nor the Law Offices of Eric A. Shore, Henninger’s lawyers in the case, replied to FA-IQ’s requests for comment in time for publication.

Editor's Note: Story updated at 7 a.m. EST Friday:

A spokesperson for Ameriprise told FA-IQ: "We take any allegation of harassment extremely seriously. When Ms. Henninger raised her initial concerns to us, we investigated them and took appropriate action. She later filed a lawsuit making new claims that we believe are without merit. To be clear, the conduct as described in the lawsuit is completely at odds with our culture and values as a company."

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