Laidlaw Executives who settled Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Accused of new Retaliation

New York broker dealer Laidlaw & Company has been sued in federal court for violating a confidential settlement over a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by a black broker who worked in their New York office from 2013-2019. The lawsuit filed on August 6, 2020 says Laidlaw agreed to pay George Calhoun $650,000 for workplace violations under New York state and federal discrimination laws. According to interviews with former brokers and text messages seen by this reporter Matt Eitner, Laidlaw’s CEO and Todd Cirella, head of business development, made racially charged comments directed at Calhoun or to other brokers in the office about Calhoun. Calhoun filed his first letter of complaint while he was still working at Laidlaw and latter quit in May 2019 to go work at another New York-based firm when he decided not to take the racial abuse any longer according to multiple Laidlaw staff interviewed by this reporter.

Calhoun was the only black broker in his group of about 38 brokers. He was also the only one who wasn’t allowed to execute his own trades even though he was licensed to do so and had with past employers. Instead Laidlaw executives had a female sales assistant who was not licensed execute the trades. Once when Calhoun had a trade loss in his personal account of near $50,000 Matt Eitner told one of the offices managers Alex Steinberger to “Get that N-word out of the office” even though Calhoun had a few days to settle the trade loss and pay up, according to brokers who heard the conversation. Calhoun was able to honor the loss and came back a few days latter to pay it. Eitner commented he didn’t think Calhoun would be able to cover it even though he was one of the top producing brokers in the group.

Another day when Todd Cirella, who has management responsibilities at Laidlaw but doesn’t not have a series 24 supervisor license. was making fun of staff with other brokers via text messages he sent a picture of a hangman when discussing Calhoun. This reporter has seen the image Cirella sent. Cirella also called Calhoun “Buckwheat” when a group of Laidlaw brokers were out to dinner in NYC.

When Calhoun finally got the nerve to stand up for himself and had an attorney send the firm a letter detailing racial abuse Matt Eitner reach out to Calhoun and said, “YOU PEOPLE always do this”. Calhoun responded “who is you people?”, according to staff who heard the conversation.

Additionally, Either has receive other complaints about Todd Cirella’s apparent racial biases and hate speech but told staff that complained “don’t worry about it”.

The Calhoun case was quietly arbitrated in the fall of 2019 with Laidlaw being adamant that Calhoun sign a confidentiality clause to not speak out about the lawsuit or what happen to him at the firm. Laidlaw was trying to attract investment from the NYPD or Fire fund at the time and couldn’t afford their alleged culture of racial abuse becoming public.

The executives involved in the alleged discrimination didn’t have to payout for their bad behavior because Laidlaw’s insurance covered the cost of the settlement. But when the check was due at the end of December Laidlaw’s outside counsel Ross Carmel at, Carmel, Milazzo & Dichiara LLP, did a bait and switch and took settlement monies owed to Calhoun claiming that he owed it because of a customer compliant filed against Laidlaw with FINRA. Attorney Ross said Laidlaw was going to settle the customer complaint for $115,000 plus charge Calhoun its attorney fees of $10,000. As a result the broker dealer planned to take the money directly out of Calhoun’s settlement.

Calhoun’s attorney, Nicholas Lewis of Nesenoff & Miltenberg, objected to this since the customer complaint was never brought up during their settlement negotiations and Calhoun believed he didn’t do anything wrong that warranted a settlement with a customer. According to Laidlaw brokers, the customer (who complained about unauthorized trading) was a client of the firm not a specific broker and passed around to other brokers including Calhoun. Laidlaw forces its brokers to sign agreements that they would cover some of the cost of client litigation if FINRA complaints are filed, but depending on who is in Matt Eitner’s inner circle, the company doesn’t always charge the brokers for settlements the firm has to pay. Additionally, as of the time the Calhoun lawsuit was filed in Federal court there is no customer settlement in FINRA broker check records for the case Laidlaw said it settled on behalf of George Calhoun. A review in broker check today shows the case is still pending.

Calhoun is now fighting back calling the settlement deduction move retaliation for the racial bias suit he brought and demanding the $125,000 be repaid and asking for an additional $500,000 for punitive damages because of violations of the settlement agreement. The complaint is a verified complaint and Calhoun is requesting a jury trial.

Additionally, there are other Laidlaw discrimination victims that have contacted Nesenoff & Miltenberg for litigation according to people familiar with the situation.

This reporter has previously reported Matt Eitner is currently under FINRA investigation for supervising securities fraud.

Matt Eitner did not respond to an email for comment. Calhoun has never responded to an interview request by this reporter. Attorneys at Nesenoff & Miltenberg said they could not comment beyond the complaint because of the settlement agreement.

Editors Note: This story was reported based on multiple Laidlaw broker and staff interviews who have signed non disclosure agreement or fear retaliation. Therefor no sources are named in the reporting but their stories have been fact checked and documented including hearing voice recordings of biases language from senior executives at Laidlaw.

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