Christine Rohrbeck, a rising star at hedge fund Baupost Group, remembered the advice from her yearend performance review: “Lean in.” A male senior partner was echoing Facebook Inc.’s Sheryl Sandberg, who advises women to strive for top jobs and resist assuming that family commitments must derail their careers. Still in her 30s, Rohrbeck would earn a $3.75 million bonus for that year, 2014. She heard it was the most of anyone in a similar role at Baupost, one of the largest and most successful hedge funds. Yet the next year, after almost a decade at the Boston fund, the Harvard MBA was out of a job. Rohrbeck blamed gender discrimination and an illness. Baupost at the time employed only two women out of 50 investment professionals, according to her previously undisclosed state discrimination complaint.
Citing a confidentiality agreement, Baupost declined to discuss the case. Spokeswoman Diana DeSocio says of Rohrbeck: “We wish her well, but the allegations have no merit.” Seth Klarman, Baupost’s chief executive officer, who was not personally accused of discrimination, says the fund had been working hard to recruit and promote women but suffered from an industrywide shortage of female applicants for investment positions. “We do everything we can to place women in leadership roles,” Klarman says. “We’re not where we want to be, and the industry isn’t where it should be, but it’s not for lack of trying at Baupost.”
The Baupost grievance, filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in 2016, opens a window into the experience of the relative handful of women who manage money at often secretive hedge funds. These investment vehicles, which oversee more than $3 trillion, rank among the most lucrative redoubts on Wall Street because managers typically keep a 20 percent cut of profits. The year of Rohrbeck’s big bonus, Klarman was paid $200 million, according to Forbes.
In her complaint, which was settled this year on undisclosed terms, Rohrbeck questioned Baupost’s record of retaining women, especially after childbirth. She said her boss made a crude joke to her about a colleague’s masturbation and that she heard secondhand that he liked to rate women by appearance. Her case, however, involved more than allegations of sexist behavior. She said she lost her job after asking for accommodations because she had been diagnosed with celiac disease.
At the anti-discrimination agency, Rohrbeck was the only woman over the past decade to allege gender discrimination at Massachusetts’ largest hedge funds, records show. Employment lawyers say the funds tend to settle such disputes privately and require women to keep settlements secret. Rohrbeck and her attorney declined to comment.