47-Year Industry Veteran Targets Wells with Age-Bias Claim
An Idaho-based broker with 47 years in the industry, who is defending against Wells Fargo claims that he left the firm without paying back $78,186 he owed on a promissory note, has fired back with a federal age discrimination lawsuit against his former employer.
The broker, who was around 70 at the time, asserts he was constructively discharged by the new three-and-a-half hour commute over a “precarious” two-lane highway. Wells initially said he could work remotely but later denied him the ability and instead put him under heightened supervision for having a certain percentage of his portfolios in Unit Investment Trusts. He said he complained to human resources “to no avail.”
“The intention of Wells Fargo in this displacement was to get rid of Mr. Lenze” and the other broker, who was around the same age, “due to their advancing age—while keeping their clients (clients they had brought to Wells Fargo),” Lenze argued in the complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.
“Wells Fargo denies all of the claims in Mr. Lenze’s case, including any claims of discrimination,” a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo wrote in a prepared statement. “Wells Fargo provides equal employment opportunities with regard to the terms and conditions of employment for all employees regardless of age or any other status protected by applicable law.”
In its Finra action, Wells claims Lenze still owes that balance on the note, initially issued as a $122,150.00 loan in 2016 based on his advance production bonuses, with 3% interest from the date of his termination, according to his lawsuit.
Lenze, who left in February 2020 to join independent broker-dealer FSC Securities in Hailey, Idaho, less than 12 miles from Ketchum, declined to comment. He referred questions to his lawyers, a team that includes his niece and who did not return a request for comment.
It is not the first time that Lenze, who has worked at three firms over his career, including Morgan Stanley and predecessor broker-dealers, Oppenheimer and Merrill Lynch, has tangled with a wirehouse over a promissory note.
He filed for bankruptcy in 2015 “due to an arbitration with Morgan Stanley where Morgan Stanley was awarded $826,000 plus interest,” according to his BrokerCheck record.
The arbitration award, however, also held Morgan Stanley “solely liable” to pay Lenze $100,000 “as damages for breach of its obligation to maintain a physical office in the Sun Valley, Idaho area.”
Lenze’s complaint against Wells seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and lawyers fees. He also alleges that upon leaving Wells, he had to forfeit $253,247.24 in a deferral plan that was set to vest in 2022.
Large broker-dealers have been facing a number of age discrimination suits as the average age of the brokerage force industry-wide continues to tick up.
Many advisors are 40 or older and therefore qualify for protection under federal anti-age discrimination laws. About one-fifth are 65 or older, and the average age is 55, according to a 2019 survey by market research consultant JD Power.