The former No. 2 official in the investment office of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) has hired an employment lawyer who specializes in wrongful termination and other employment discrimination cases.
Elisabeth Bourqui, who was the system’s chief operating investment officer (COIO) until her sudden resignation two weeks ago, was a surprise visitor Tuesday at the pension plan’s semiannual retreat meeting in Rohnert Park, California.
She sat quietly in a middle row of a hotel ballroom as Ben Meng, the pension plan’s new chief investment officer, detailed his investment visions for the largest US pension organization.
Sitting next to Bourqui was Elisa Stewart, a partner in the Emeryville, California, law firm of Stewart & Musell, which specializes in employment law issues for workers.
The firm’s website says it handles wrongful termination, sexual harassment, and age discrimination cases, among other employment issues.
Bourqui introduced Stewart to a reporter during a break at the CalPERS meeting.
“This is my lawyer,” she told the reporter. She would not answer any other questions as to why she had left CalPERS just seven months after she moved from Zurich, Switzerland, to the Sacramento area to take the CalPERS job.
Meng announced Bourqui’s departure in a staff memo on January 7, just five days after he assumed the investment leadership of the largest US retirement system.
It is not clear if Meng requested Bourqui’s resignation so he could place his own candidate in the spot, or whether she was having a conflict with CalPERS CEO Marcie Frost. CalPERS spokesman Wayne David said he could not discuss Bourqui leaving because it was a personnel matter. CalPERS officials announced in April that Bourqui had been selected to become the COIO after a global search. Bourqui led the investment office’s business and operations functions, including managing investment compliance, operational risk, and audit-related functions.
She was also a key advisor on investment policy.
“Elisabeth brings a tremendous depth of global experience to CalPERS,” said Ted Eliopoulos, CalPERS’s then CIO, in a statement at the time of her appointment. “Elisabeth will strengthen our efforts to innovate, and to integrate business practices across our global investment platform. She will also be instrumental in the implementation of business strategies particularly in private equity and asset allocation.”
CalPERS sources have questioned if Bourqui’s detailed presentations on the potential investment returns but also risks of CalPERS’s planned direct investment-style private program in closed session meetings upset Frost, a big advocate of the program.
Most CalPERS investment officials had been telling board members in closed sessions the advantages of the program in terms of helping the system’s investment returns. Boruqui did so too, but she also expressed what she felt some of the risks of the program are, including potential millions of dollars in start-up costs.
Bourqui started on May 14. The same day, CalPERS officials announced that CIO Ted Eliopoulos would be leaving by the end of 2018 because of family matters. It is unclear if Bourqui was informed of his decision before taking the job. Eliopoulos left in November.
Bourqui had applied for the CIO job, which was ultimately given to Meng in September.
She was a frequent speaker at CalPERS investment committee meetings, offering details on investment issues and policies.
Bourqui had been head of pension assets and liabilities management at ABB Group prior to joining CalPERS. Before ABB, Bourqui worked as an investment consultant in Canada for Mercer, specializing in public and private pension funds.
Bourqui replaced Wylie Tollette in the CalPERS spot. Tollette left CalPERS in January 2018 to rejoin money manager Franklin Templeton Investments.