Molly J. Bowen of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC played a key role in shareholder derivative litigation against Pinterest that led to major commitments to governance reform at the social media company and convinced a Manhattan federal judge to keep investor claims alive against Wells Fargo in a suit over the company's noncompliance with federal consent decrees. These accomplishments and others have earned her a spot among the securities law practitioners under age 40 honored by Law360 as Rising Stars.
The biggest case of her career:
Bowen drafted the brief that allowed Wells Fargo investors to avoid dismissal of a proposed securities class action claiming the bank hurt investors by concealing its noncompliance with federal consent decrees.
In its January 2021 dismissal bid, Bowen told Law360, Wells Fargo had argued that because of certain confidentiality restrictions that apply to banks, it had to keep material information from its investors.
"If that argument was accepted, it would obviously have really problematic implications," Bowen said. "It would mean that banks could conceal problems they were having with their regulators, which are some of the most important issues that investors care about."
Bowen recalled the moment that her team got the decision on the matter from U.S. District Judge Gregory H. Woods.
"It was thrilling," she said. "It's very exciting when you get a decision back from a judge who you respect and who you know took a careful look at everything and ultimately agreed with you."
The most interesting case she's worked on lately:
Bowen has played a central role in shareholder derivative litigation against social media company Pinterest alleging the company's brass turned a blind eye to, or participated in, discrimination on the basis of race and sex.
Cohen Milstein described the settlement reached with the company, which a judge initially signed off on in February, as "a first of its kind," with the company making significant commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and corporate governance reforms as part of its $50 million deal with investors.
"Pinterest is a company that really targets women and people of color as some of the most important users of the product, so being consistent with anti-discrimination principles internally is really important for their business success — as well as following the law and doing the right thing," Bowen told Law360.
Bowen, who took a lead role in the firm's investigation, drafting the complaint and settlement talks, said that it was "incredibly satisfying to feel like we were able to come to a resolve that would make a material difference for people who had been through a bad experience to ensure that investors really knew what's happening in the company."
Her proudest moment as an attorney:
Bowen cited the Pinterest case as a source of great pride.
"Getting through all these hurdles and reaching a resolution that is very meaningful, that is directly tied to allegations in our case, and that is changing structurally how the board of a company and a public company operates, is something I'm incredibly proud of," she said.
What motivates her:
Bowen said she's motivated by her clients and by the nature of her practice as a plaintiffs lawyer.
"We primarily represent public pension funds, who are protecting the assets of often just regular working folks like nurses, firefighters and teachers who work their [whole] lives and put money into a pension or their 401(k)s, who have been harmed by the corporate fraud and misconduct that is at issue in cases," she said. "So being able to stand up and recover money for people who have been harmed [is a] very tangible outcome and is very motivating — particularly in this time that is, you know, precarious for so many people, it feels really significant to be able to do that."
She added that being able "to expose misconduct that has happened, and to try and push the law to become more expansive and more protective, is incredibly inspiring."
"It's hard to think of what can be more exciting than getting to do that as a lawyer — to be able to help more people and to protect people through your work," she said.
Why she is a securities attorney:
"I really love securities because the legal issues are so complicated, the stakes are so high, and you always are learning something new: our cases involve such a varied subject matter and all these different industries, so there's always a chance to become an expert in a new field," Bowen said.
In particular, she said, "with the derivative cases, working with experts to design settlement terms and corporate governance — practices that will cause better board oversight — has been a really exciting and stimulating part of our practice that I've really enjoyed."