(Dow Jones) Brokers are continuing to lose the battle against their former employers when they wind up in arbitration over signing bonuses gone wrong.
Arbitration panels of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (Finra) recently sided in favor of brokerage firms in three cases in which financial advisors owed money for leaving the firm before their signing contracts expired.
Brokers' signing bonuses have contractual handcuffs usually lasting seven to 10 years. These are in the form of loans that are forgiven in annual installments and are secured by promissory notes, so if brokers leave either voluntarily or involuntarily, they have to pay back the remaining portion.
Finra tends to side with brokerage firms in cases such as these, because of the binding nature of the contracts.
Arbitrators recently ordered William Bettis, a former Morgan Stanley financial advisor in California, to pay roughly $313,700, plus interest, for not paying back part of his signing bonus.
Bettis left Morgan Stanley, now merged with Smith Barney, in April 2006. At the time he agreed to pay back the roughly $332,250 to Morgan Stanley on a payment plan, according to the Finra award. When Bettis didn't make the second payment, Morgan Stanley gave him an extension but he still didn't pay, according to the Finra award.
Bettis didn't participate in the arbitration process, and he isn't registered with another Finra brokerage. He couldn't be reached for comment. A Morgan Stanley spokeswoman confirmed that Bettis once worked at the firm.
A Finra panel also ordered a former Wachovia Securities broker, Nancy Griffiths-Lawton, to pay $250,000 to her employer. She didn't lose completely, however: The company had sought payment of $335,507, according to the Finra award.
Griffiths-Lawton, who was based in Pennsylvania, began working for the firm in July 2007, according to Finra, and left as it was being acquired by Wells Fargo & Co. in December 2008.
Tim Bowers, the attorney for Griffiths-Lawton, said the company told her that her office was being closed and that she could either commute to a distant branch or leave Wachovia. Griffiths-Lawton chose to leave. A Wells Fargo Advisors spokesman declined to comment on the case. Griffiths-Lawton hasn't been registered with another firm since her departure, according to Finra.