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Ex-Woodstock Broker Wins Claim

A former Woodstock stockbroker has been awarded $600,000 by arbitrators after claiming that he was fired from his lucrative job because his boss learned that he was a recovering alcoholic.

Robert Fenyk, who maintains a home in Barnard, claimed that his reputation in the financial industry was destroyed after Raymond James Financial Services Inc., fired him in 2011 while citing his alcohol problem.

Fenyk filed a claim in 2012 with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the brokerage industry’s self-regulatory organization. Last week, an arbitration board rejected Raymond James’ request to dismiss his claims and ordered the firm to pay him $600,000 in compensatory damages plus an additional $36,000 in legal and attorneys’ fees, and.

Fenyk, who was represented by Woodstock attorney Norman Watts, argued that his alcohol problem never affected his work performance, and that the company fired him from its Woodstock office only because it learned, from Fenyk’s former partner, that he had attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

“They had no idea about it because he was recovering, not drinking,” Watts said in an interview. “It’s a disability, essentially, and they have to respect it. The law requires them to accommodate the disability. He had been sober for many years. He was highly successful. Alcohol was not interfering with his work and causing damages.”

Fenyk now lives in New Jersey and is hoping to launch a new career as an accountant, Watts said. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Raymond James said it would pursue an appeal of the arbitrators’ decision, and would argue that Fenyk was an independent adviser, not an employee.

“Raymond James Financial Services denies acting in a discriminatory manner toward Mr. Fenyk at any point during his affiliation with the firm,” Raymond James Financial, Inc. Deputy General Counsel Mike Alford said. “We do not believe the arbitrators reached the correct decision in this matter as Mr. Fenyk was never an employee of Raymond James. We will be moving to vacate the award.”

Raymond James Financial Services Inc., is a subsidiary of Raymond James Financial, Inc., the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based financial services giant that employs more than 6,200 financial advisers and has client assets totalling $407 billion. It reported $1.14 billion in revenue for the second quarter of 2013.

Fenyk worked for Raymond James from 2001 to 2009.

He initially worked for Raymond James in New York City, but left, taking a significant pay cut, to come to Vermont and in part to get away from the alcohol-soaked city night life, Watts said.

In 2007, Fenyk began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and taking medication to reduce his dependence on alcohol, according to filings with FINRA. While he “slipped,” once, according to the filing, Fenyk has been sober since 2009.

Fenyk’s supervisor obtained an email between Fenyk and his ex-boyfriend, who was also a Raymond James client. In the email, Fenyk mentioned his attendance at “AA” and “Al Anon meetings”

“It appeared that (the supervisor) concluded that (Fenyk) was out of control, perhaps binging,” Watts wrote in filings with FINRA. “The conclusion was without support or evidence. He admitted that his decision to fire claimant was based solely on the email and his own conclusion that (Fenyk) was a drunk — a false and baseless conclusion.”

Raymond James did not produce any evidence that clients had complained about Fenyk, Watts argued in filings, and only speculated that Fenyk’s alcohol problem could lead to future problems.

The arbitrators did not explain their rationale for ruling in favor of Fenyk in their written decision.

FINRA is a member-based organization that sets and enforces financial rules based on federal financial regulations, and is charged with overseeing all U.S. stockbrokers and brokerage firms.

After he was fired, Fenyk interviewed at a half-dozen brokerage firms, Watts said, and on three occasions was told he had been hired. However, on each occasion, the company rescinded its offer after checking documents filed with FINRA that Fenyk had been terminated for “unprofessional conduct,” Watts said.

“It’s really nasty,” Watts said. “He couldn’t get back into the business.”

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.