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Blankfein and Cohn Must Testify in Goldman Sex-Bias Case

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 10/20/2020 Bob Van Voris
Lloyd Blankfein wearing a suit and tie smiling and looking at the camera © Bloomberg Lloyd Blankfein

(Bloomberg) -- Two former top Goldman Sachs executives must testify in one of the biggest gender-discrimination cases in Wall Street history, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert W. Lehrburger on Tuesday denied a move by the bank to block pre-trial depositions of former Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein and former President Gary Cohn, ruling in favor of a group of women who claim they were denied equal pay and promotions by the bank.

“What they knew is important because, as the plaintiffs point out, the buck stops there,” Lehrburger said, delivering his ruling at the end of a telephonic court hearing.

Lehrburger said he will decide after the Blankfein and Cohn depositions are taken whether the women can also take testimony from Goldman’s current chairman and CEO, David Solomon.

“We are looking forward to providing our perspective on this matter, and remain confident that we will prevail in court,” said Maeve DuVally, a spokeswoman for Goldman.

Blankfein served as chairman and CEO from 2006 to 2018. Cohn was president and chief operating officer from 2006 to 2016, when he left Goldman to serve as President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser.

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The suit was filed in 2010 by former employees who claimed that Goldman made biased compensation decisions and denied women opportunities they had earned. Lehrburger ruled in 2018 that the case could go forward as a class action on behalf of more than 2,000 women, increasing their leverage in the case. He then ruled in March that about 1,000 of the class members must pursue their claims in arbitration against the bank.

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Robert Giuffra, a lawyer for Goldman, told Lehrburger that Blankfein, Cohn and Solomon lacked unique knowledge of the policies at issue in the case and shouldn’t be forced to testify. He claimed lawyers for the women sought their depositions “for their press value, for their harassment value, for their burden value.

Lehrburger disagreed, initially saying the plaintiffs could question all three under oath for 3 1/2 hours each. Later in the hearing he agreed with Giuffra to delay ruling on Solomon until the others had testified.

The case is Chen-Oster v. Goldman Sachs & Co., 10-cv-06950, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

(Updates with comment from Goldman in the fifth paragraph)

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