William Bryan Jennings, mugshot

I was racking my brain for one final story that sums up this era in politics, the state of our world circa 2012, and I have to give it to this one from a few days ago.

William Bryan Jennings, whose parents obviously hoped for a Progressive populist reformer as a child, grew up to work at Morgan Stanley, and acquire all the sense of entitlement and douchebaggery that goes along with such an occupation (I believe they give that to you at the same time as your parking space). One year ago to the day, on December 21, 2011, Jennings left a Christmas party in New York City, and his town car didn’t show up (#richwhitepeopleproblems). So he hailed a cab to take him to his home in Darien, Connecticut. When he got home, Jennings decided to treat the cab ride like a buyout deal, and trying to negotiate down for a lower fare. This is an executive at Morgan Stanley who didn’t want to pay full fare to get home. The cabbie asked for $204 (Jennings said it was $294). Jennings offered $50 (good negotiating ploy; start low!). At this point I should mention that Jennings makes around $3 million a year.

The cabbie went to the police to settle the argument, driving away from the home. So Jennings did the obvious thing: he pulled out a pen knife and started fighting with the Middle Eastern cabbie, yelling racial slurs like “Go back to your own fucking country” and “I’m going to kill you, motherfucker,” cutting him on the right hand and eventually escaping from the cab. Jennings ran home and spent two months hiding from the police before coming forward.

You know how this story ends. Jennings got away with it. The state dropped the charges because the cabbie held onto the pen knife for five months before delivering it to police, thereby tainting the evidence. So it’s the same old story; entitled, rich banker assaulting a working person and getting away with it on a technicality. William Bryan Jennings was too big to fail.

But a funny thing happened. Morgan Stanley fired the guy for breaching their internal code of conduct.

William Bryan Jennings, the banker whose assault and hate-crime charges over a dispute with a New York cab driver were dropped, was fired by Morgan Stanley and is now reportedly trying to get millions in deferred compensation denied him by his former employer […]

Jennings and his attorney did not immediately return a request for comment. An unnamed spokesman for Jennings told the Journal: “The issue is not Mr. Jennings’ conduct. The issue is Morgan Stanley’s conduct. Morgan Stanley knew Mr. Jennings was victimized and still fired him and still kept his money.”

A spokeswoman for Morgan Stanley provided a statement:

“While we cannot comment on specific instances or individuals, the claw back provisions in our compensation model allow us to take action where appropriate when an employee engages in conduct that is detrimental to the firm, including conduct that causes damage to the firm’s franchise and reputation, or creates a situation in which the Firm suffers losses or is exposed to excessive financial or regulatory risks.”

This seems like a case of just desserts, and it is. But the flip side of this is that Morgan Stanley saw the opportunity to deny compensation to one of their executives after he embarrassed the firm, and they made it a pretty good deal for them by clawing back as much as $5 million in compensation. The firm did not suffer any losses from this sorry tale, let’s be honest. But Morgan Stanley can use that for their own financial advantage.

So this is the perfect Wall Street story: entitled, self-absorbed assholes, the fecklessness of the justice system, and firms taking any opportunity to make money off the exchange.


David Dayen

David Dayen