By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York state appeals court on Thursday restored most of a former TCW Group Inc fund manager’s sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employer, considered Wall Street’s first major case of the #MeToo era.
In a 4-0 vote, the Appellate Division in Manhattan said Sara Tirschwell, who sued for $30 million in January 2018, can now seek punitive damages from TCW and her former boss Jess Ravich, who oversaw the firm’s alternative products offerings.
It also revived claims that Los Angeles-based TCW, with about $248 billion of assets under management, retaliated against Tirschwell by firing her for complaining about Ravich’s conduct, and improperly withheld support she needed for her job.
Tirschwell has said Ravich pressured her to have sex in exchange for supporting her distressed debt fund and withdrew his support when she stopped.
“We look forward to presenting our case at trial,” Tirschwell’s lawyer Steven Storch said.
TCW has said Tirschwell’s performance had already put her job in jeopardy, and that it fired her for cause in December 2017 because of a fifth compliance violation.
A spokesman, Doug Morris, said TCW will defend against Tirschwell’s meritless claims, and that she was “properly terminated.”
Ravich has denied Tirschwell’s claims against him, and said he was her biggest supporter at TCW.
His lawyer, Robert Sacks, said the remaining claim against Ravich was “meritless and factually implausible, and he looks forward to explaining to a jury why.”
In restoring the punitive damages request, the appeals court said conditioning support for Tirschwell on sex could, if proven, show that Ravich discriminated “with willful or wanton negligence, or recklessness, or a conscious disregard of the rights of others.”
The court also said it was unclear whether TCW had a non-pretextual reason to fire Tirschwell, because some violations appeared “non-serious” and involved mitigating factors.
Ravich left TCW in 2019. Tirschwell, a Texas native, last month withdrew her bid for the Republican nomination to become New York City’s next mayor.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Jessica DiNapoli; Editing by Bill Berkrot)