Finra arbitrators award $1.8 million to former USAA brokers for wrongful termination

Claimants received $850,000 in compensatory, $700,000 in punitive damages, $250,000 for attorneys

Jul 8, 2019 @ 4:44 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Finra arbitrators awarded $1.8 million to brokers who claimed they were wrongfully fired by USAA Financial Advisors.

Christopher R. Johnson and Lee Anne Przybyla were dismissed by USAA in April 2017 for allegedly seeking compensation to which they were not entitled, according to the original entry in their BrokerCheck profiles. The arbitration award said the termination involved practices related to the preparation and publishing of financial plans.

Mr. Johnson and Ms. Przybyla accused USAA of breach of contract, defamation and wrongful discharge, among other claims.

(More: Vermont establishes restitution fund for victims of investment fraud)

The three-person Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. panel awarded Mr. Johnson $500,000 in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages. It awarded Ms. Przybyla $350,000 in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages. They received a total of $250,000 in attorneys' fees.

The arbitrators also ruled that the reason for termination on their Form U5 documents should be changed to "voluntary resignation" from "involuntary termination" and that the termination comments should be blank.

Five other former USAA brokers are pursuing similar arbitration claims against USAA, which primarily serves military service members and their families. Their cases were separated from the one involving Mr. Johnson and Ms. Przybyla and will be heard at a later date.

(More:Auditor: Future of broker-dealer with history of problems is in doubt)

"We are pleased for our clients, who had the courage to stand up and fight after they were wrongfully terminated, defamed and treated as scapegoats for the firm's own internal failures," George C. Miller, a partner at Shustak Reynolds & Partners, said in a statement. "No amount of money can compensate the claimants for what they went through, but our hope is the award will help them move on and restart their careers and send a clear and loud message to USAA that it cannot treat its employees in this manner."

A USAA spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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