In a rare win, brokerage firm Edward Jones was recently ordered by an arbitration panel to pay former representative Marc Miller $100,000 in damages for defamation.
Miller, who left Jones in late 2008 for Morgan Keegan & Co. in Sarasota, Fla., claimed the firm defamed him on his U-5 termination report with claims of unauthorized trading, unauthorized use of margin and misuse of his expense account.
The filing caused Miller to withdraw pending registrations from several states and opened an investigation into his conduct with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
"It's a deathblow for a rep," said George Guerra, Miller's attorney at Wiand Guerra King.
But while the decision against Edward Jones is a rare win for reps, it falls far short of the $3 million sought by Miller and ultimately isn't enough to discourage future cases of firms putting up roadblocks for advisors who jump ship, Guerra said.
According to Guerra, most firms have entered into protocol memberships and have developed a methodology to resolve disputes caused by reps changing jobs without entering into disputes or litigation. Currently, Edward Jones has not joined that protocol.
"They have affirmatively taken a position that they will continue to sue brokers to try and restrict their ability to earn a living, to try and restrict their ability to have clients do business with them. In some cases, like the Miller case, even go as far as to putting material on the U-5 that is defamatory and untrue," he said.
Guerra said Edward Jones had initially agreed to amend the U-5 report, and to inform FINRA that Miller had been cleared through an internal investigation. In 2009, Miller filed new arbitration when Jones later refused to contact FINRA on Millers behalf.