Business & Real Estate

Former Los Altos hedge fund manager Sangeeth Peruri collects major settlement from employer


 

To this day, Sangeeth Peruri doesn’t know why he was fired.

“You’re going to work every day, then you stop going to work,” said the Los Altos resident last month. “How do you explain to your kids why you don’t have a job anymore?”

It happened one day out of the blue in 2012. Peruri was a successful portfolio manager. He reaped major profits for investors. The hedge funds he founded and ran grew from a few million dollars to more than $1 billion.

Peruri’s bosses broke the news at a brief end-of-day meeting at Columbia Investment Group, a subsidiary of Ameriprise, where he had worked for 12 years. Peruri started at J. & W. Seligman & Co., which was sold to Ameriprise.

“They fired me for cause,” Peruri said, adding that “cause” was not explained at the meeting – and, in fact, never explained – leaving him only to speculate.

Peruri filed a lawsuit against his former employer and won. He won’t specify the award, only noting that it was “a significant number.” A judge sided with Peruri last year, but Peruri wasn’t able to discuss the case until just recently, when the American Arbitration Association published the finding. Another document had to be changed to keep the specific amount of the settlement out of the public eye.

The firing and subsequent lawsuit hovered over Peruri like a dark cloud, even as he used his time to volunteer at Covington School, which his children attend, and ran a winning campaign for a seat on the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees, on which he currently serves as president.

It was during his election bid in 2014 that rumors circulated about his firing from Columbia. In particular, Peruri was associated with former hedge fund manager Doug Whitman, who was convicted of insider trading in 2012. Peruri was never indicted. Whitman, sentenced to two years in prison, was released last year after, according to Reuters, several judges expressed skepticism that his conviction should be upheld.

Some drew conclusions that Peruri was guilty either of insider trading or of failing to report the alleged Whitman association to his employers. The fallout from the infamous Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme led to aggressive investigations by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. No one was above suspicion, even someone like Peruri, who was known for being aboveboard with clients.

“There was a big social-media smear campaign,” Peruri recalled of the role social media played in the board of trustees race, adding that people he considered friends were peddling “lies” behind his back. “I had to sever many friendships.”

Thanks in part to endorsements from key leaders in Los Altos, such as former Los Altos mayors Bob Grimm and Roy Lave, Peruri was elected to the board.

Peruri’s victory over Columbia was a classic David-beats-Goliath story. He said employees win such lawsuits approximately 10 percent of the time.

“My attorney said this was one of the largest Wall Street awards he’s seen in his career,” Peruri said.

With the cloud of his firing and subsequent litigation lifted, Peruri is focusing most of his energy on volunteering in the community. And though Peruri said there was “something very rotten” about his firing, he saw a silver lining.

“I got to spend more time with my kids and give back to our community,” he said.

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