One of the common themes in employment today is that employees are committed to finding a better work/life balance. As a result, they are on the job for fewer hours. As an employer, I’m not particularly fond of this trend, as there is always lots of work to do. When my staff complains about my antiquated outlook, I will now point share with them the story of Kate Shiber.
In the summer of 2020, then 21-year-old Shiber joined Centerview Partners, an elite boutique mergers and acquisitions bank, as an analyst. The exciting Wall Street job was fast-paced and required long hours.
The recent Dartmouth grad was assigned to the “Project Dragon” deal team, which involved a $100 billion client and an unsolicited takeover bid. One day in August of 2020, she worked past midnight to complete her assignments. As a result, Shiber wrote an email to a more senior banker on the team saying, “I would really appreciate if we could strategize how we/I can be more efficient earlier in the day.” She was concerned that staying up perhaps all night would exacerbate her mood and anxiety disorders.
A senior analyst responded to her inquiry saying that the “worst” part of investment banking was that “you can’t ‘get ahead’ of things…late nights are part of the job, especially on a live deal like this.”
So, Shiber told Centerview’s human resources department about her medical condition and a therapeutic need to get eight to nine hours of sleep a night. She later confirmed this with a nurse’s note. Shiber told the firm she could work 105 hours a week, 15 hours a day, seven days a week. The firm responded with compassion and implemented what it referred to as “guardrails,” a daily nine-hour window starting at midnight where she was excused from her work duties.
However, less than three weeks later, Shiber was summoned to a video meeting where two Centerview administrators fired her. They tersely explained that the firm could no longer accommodate her sleep requirement.
In response, Shiber sued Centerview, alleging the firm violated federal and state anti-discrimination laws that she claims apply to her based on her mental illness diagnoses. She is requesting $5 million in damages.
Centerview asserts it was within its rights to terminate Shiber, as she simply could not meet the basic requirement of a demanding job. It also says it worried about her health consequences if she stayed. A Project Dragon analyst explained in an email to a senior colleague that Shiber’s broader development was at risk from her unavailability. “Since she has to jump in and out of workstreams, and this will keep moving so fast, I think it will get increasingly confusing for her as [others] keep building things out without her.”
Centerview asked a federal judge to render a summary judgment ruling that the termination was not wrongful.
During a deposition in the case, Shiber’s lawyer asked a Centerview executive if he would still expect to receive thousands of job applications if it decided to explicitly warn students about the long hours. To the lawyer’s surprise, he said, “Yes, I do, because there are a lot of very ambitious, good, smart people who want to work in investment banking. Yes, you work very hard, and, yes, it is a challenging environment…and a lot of deadlines, and a lot of clients, and it’s unpredictable, but, yes, they want to learn. It’s a very strong learning environment.”
Purportedly, Centerview made an offer to Shiber, who is now an analyst at Google, to settle the case. She told them she’d sleep on it.