Articles Posted in Employment Law

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On November 19, 2020, FINRA published a noteworthy arbitration award for a Herskovits PLLC client in FINRA Arbitration No. 20-01054.  This case has garnered significant attention in the press due to the fact that Wells Fargo was ordered to pay our client’s attorneys’ fees.  Stories about the case have been reported in AdvisorHub, InvestmentNews and ThinkAdvisor.

On February 18, 2020, Wells Fargo terminated the FA and inserted the following allegation on the Form U5:

“WF Bank, N.A., registered banker was discharged by the bank after a bank investigation reviewed complaints received by AMIG from two bank customers alleging the customers were enrolled in renter’s insurance policies for which the banker received referral sales credit without the customers’ authorization.  The registered banker denied the customers’ allegations.  The activity was not related to the securities business of WFCS.”

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On September 22, 2020, FINRA submitted a proposed rule change to the SEC.   The proposed rule furthers FINRAs assault on the expungement process by imposing stringent requirements on expungement requests filed during a customer arbitration by or on behalf of the associated person (“on-behalf-of request”) or filed by a registered representative separate from a customer arbitration (“straight-in request”).  The proposed rule also (a) establishes a roster of arbitrators with enhanced training and experience, from which a panel of 3 arbitrators would decide straight-in requests; and (b) codifies and updates the Notice to Arbitrators and Parties on Expanded Expungement Guidance.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the proposed rule change:

Denial of FINRA Forum

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On September 9, 2020, FINRA issued an AWC resolving an investigation with FA Patrick J. Knox.  At first blush, the investigation seemed to resolve a rather straightforward Reg S-P violation.  FINRA accused Knox of printing his customer list in anticipation of joining a new broker-dealer and providing the list to his prospective employer.  Apparently, the list included customer names, social security numbers and birth dates.  Because the customer’s did not authorize the release of this information, FINRA deemed Knox to have violated Reg S-P and slapped his wrist with a 10-day suspension and a fine of $2,500.  However, a closer examination of the AWC raises some interesting questions about the viability of certain protections afforded by the Protocol for Broker Recruiting.

The Protocol for Broker Recruiting

The Protocol is an agreement designed to provide a framework for representatives to leave one firm and join another.  If an FA abides by the Protocol, she can join a competitor without fear of being sued for having violated a contractual non-solicitation provision.  Firms that join the Protocol do so on a voluntary basis and agree that an FA can join a competing firm and bring along a client list containing the following information:  client name, address, phone number, email address, and account title of the clients.

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Over the past year FINRA’s Office of Financial Innovation held meetings with over two dozen market participants, including broker-dealers, academics, technology vendors and service providers in order to better understand the use of Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) in the securities industry.  This past June FINRA issued a 20 page report which it described as an “initial contribution to an ongoing dialogue” about the use of AI in the securities industry.  FINRA notes early in the report that it is not intended to express any legal position and does not create any new requirements or suggest any change in any existing regulatory obligations.  So the report is merely food for thought on the topic of AI in the securities industry.

The paper is broken down into three sections; i) a description of the types of AI, ii) an overview of how firms are using AI in their business, and iii) the regulatory considerations surrounding AI.  Here are some takeaways from sections ii and iii.

AI Applications

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On May 8, 2020, FINRA published an interesting AWC in which they suspended a quantitative research analyst for breaching internal policies relating to the treatment of confidential and proprietary information.  Although FINRA will aggressively pursue Reg S-P violations, in which nonpublic confidential information pertaining to a customer — such as a social security number or account number — is improperly disclosed, this AWC is somewhat unique because FINRA charged the individual with sending himself computer code seemingly unrelated to customers of the firm.

The matter at hand concerns Sune Gaulsh, FINRA Matter No. 2018058804301, an individual who was formerly employed by Barclays Capital.  According to his LinkedIn profile, Gaulsh was “part of a collaborating team within equities and research that researched and developed systematic trading strategies (volatility, global macro/CTA, L/S equity, event driven), constructed cross asset risk premia and factor portfolios, and evaluated data sets for alpha.”  Although Gaulsh voluntarily resigned from Barclays, the firm filed a Form U5 disclosing an internal investigation “to determine if the registered representative sent the firm’s proprietary business information to his personal email address.”

Underlying Conduct

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On April 21, 2020, California’s Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District created a significant carve-out to the absolute immunity standard previously applicable to Form U5 defamation claims in California.  The full opinion in Tilkey v. Allstate Insurance Co., Super. Ct. No. 37-2016-00015545-CU-OE-CTL (2020) is available here.  This case significantly changes the landscape for Form U5 defamation claim unless California’s highest court intervenes.  As a result of Allstate’s defamation, the trial court awarded Tilkey $2,663,137 in compensatory damages and $15,978,822 in punitive damages.

Background

Before jumping in to the facts of the case, some background on Form U5 defamation claims might be helpful.  Broker-dealers are required to file a Form U5 whenever an employee’s registration is terminated.  The Form U5 requires the firm to provide a narrative explanation of the termination if the employee was discharged or permitted to resign.  When it comes to the narrative explanation, professionals in the financial services industry frequently complain that employers “play games” by providing extraneous and gratuitous remarks or, worse yet, offering an entirely false explanation for the termination.  The consequences flowing from negative Form U5 disclosure information are severe.  In addition to reputational harm, FINRA will start a costly investigation and potential employers will shy away from a prospective employee with negative information on CRD.

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This week’s FINRA settlements report AWC’s in which FINRA hit two FAs for some misguided efforts toward good customer service.

In the Matter of Sandra Gose Stevens, FINRA Matter No. 2018058123701

Stevens was formerly registered with MML Investors Services, LLC, which terminated her in April 2018 concerning an alleged “signature irregularity.”  FINRA thereafter initiated an investigation and made the following findings in the AWC:

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Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like FINRA has ramped up its caseload for undisclosed outside business activities and unapproved private securities transactions.  This week alone, FINRA resolved two such cases in FINRA Matter No. 2018058026701, Alexander Jon James and FINRA Matter No. 2019061490801, Barry Robert Bode.  Before analyzing the cases, it’s worth re-visiting the scope of these rules:

FINRA Rule 3270 (Outside Business Activities)

The rule is designed to prevent FAs from engaging in outside business activities absent written approval from the member firm.  Generally speaking, the rule does not apply to the registered person’s personal passive investments (e.g., buying away) and activities conducted on behalf of a member firm’s affiliate (e.g., work for an affiliated investment advisory firm or insurance arm).  Examples of reportable outside business activities could include providing accounting or consulting services, working for a start-up or sitting on a board of directors, acting as a real estate broker, and serving on the board of a religious or civic organization, among other things.

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Courts call a lifetime bar “the securities industry equivalent of capital punishment.”  PAZ Sec. Inc. v. SEC, 494 F.3d 1059, 1065 (D.C. Cir. 2007).  It is a draconian measure which not only permanently removes you from the securities industry but also subjects you to “statutory disqualification” under Section 3(a)(39)(A) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and all the collateral consequences that come with it.

Given the seriousness of a lifetime bar, a recently released AWC presents an alarming fact pattern in which a supervisor was barred due to the transgressions of an FA he failed to properly supervise.  Let’s consider the case of Michael Leahy, FINRA Case No. 2019063631802.  The question is, why did FINRA go after the supervisor with guns blazing?

The Applicable Rule:  FINRA Rule 3110

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This blog post looks at an interesting FINRA arbitration award issued on January 7, 2020:  Daniel Paul Motherway v. UBS Financial Services, Inc., FINRA Arbitration No. 17-02799.  This case seems to prove the old adage:  a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.  Here we have an FA who proved, quite literally, that UBS defamed him, but was nonetheless ordered to stroke a check to UBS for more than $1 million.

Background Facts

On June 28, 2017, UBS fired Motherway and offered the following termination explanation on BrokerCheck:  “Financial Advisor’s employment was terminated after review concluded that he made false claims of merchant fraud on his personal credit and debit cards to an affiliate of the firm and made conflicting statement during the review.”

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