A 15-year veteran of private equity firm Portfolio Advisors LLC has sued her former employer in federal court for allegedly discriminating against her because she’s Asian-American.
Michelle Lee, former general counsel, investments for Portfolio Advisors who graduated from Yale Law School in 2005, said Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders continue to face injustice in the workplace.
The Darien, Conn.-based firm discriminated against her because of her race, sex, religion and national origin, and retaliated when she reported the issue, she said.
“It’s not right that a different standard applies to me. As an Asian-American woman I felt excluded and less than others, no matter how hard I worked or what I put up with,” Lee said in a statement last week after filing a complaint in Connecticut federal court.
Citing federal data compiled by the Harvard Business Review that shows that Asian-American professionals are least likely to be promoted into management from individual contributor roles, Lee said she too faced a bamboo ceiling.
Lee was passed over for promotions and even when she did advance, she’d be paid less than white peers and was prevented from purchasing equity in the firm, according to the lawsuit.
She said her co-workers called her “ice queen” and accused her of not having the right tone and being difficult to work with. She was also sexually harassed by a co-worker, she said.
The suit also alleges that Lee suffered insomnia, skin condition, lockjaw from grinding teeth during sleep, acid reflux and heartburn, asthma and other issues as a result of her treatment at work.
Lee filed Lee v. Portfolio Advisors, LLC et al. alleging violations of federal civil rights laws on June 27. She amended the complaint on Aug. 3.
In a posting on her LinkedIn Page on Saturday, Lee said she’s received an outpouring of support.
“This is what makes coming forward worth it: my story is not the only one,” Lee said. “Discrimination against Asian-Americans is so ignored that people suffer in silence, and we shouldn’t have to.”
“We hope Michelle’s story will encourage other people to come forward,” said Charles Jung, partner at Nassiri & Jung LLP, the firm representing Lee in the case.
Justin Zhu, executive director of Stand with Asian-Americans, said the non-profit set up a website for Asian-Americans to report workplace discrimination.
Founded in 1994, Portfolio Advisors manages about $38 billion and employs more than 130 people in the U.S., Europe and Asia, according to the firm’s website.
Portfolio Advisors did not immediately reply to an email from MarketWatch inquiring about Lee’s lawsuit.