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Banker awarded £3.2 million after ‘severe, disgraceful’ harassment

Earlier this month the Central London Employment Tribunal awarded Svetlana Lokhova, a former equity saleswoman in the London office of Sberbank CIB, £3,199,400 in lost earnings, hurt feelings and aggravated damages following sustained gender-based harassment and victimisation by her colleagues at Russia’s largest bank.

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Ms Lokhova’s colleagues had falsely branded her a ‘mental cocaine addicted bitch’ and claimed she was only offered her job because of her gender and family connection. The tribunal found that her main tormentor was her manager who had played a part in a ‘vindictive campaign’ against her including claiming she had ‘unfortunate brain chemistry’. The tribunal also awarded an additional £15,000 because she was forced to undertake a drugs test to prove the bank’s continued false allegations that she was a drug user.

Ms Lokhova was, the tribunal found, a ‘resilient person who crumbled under intense bullying over years’, which resulted in a moderately severe psychiatric illness to the extent that she would never work again in financial services.

While the gravity of harassment which Ms Lokhova was subjected to is uncommon, the decision serves to highlight several important points:

1 The tribunal was particularly critical of the failure of the head of the London office, Paolo Zaniboni, to manage the internal conflict properly. Senior staff need to be willing and able to manage workforces efficiently and ensure practices like those occurring at Sberbank do not occur.

2 The tribunal also found that there was no investigation of complaints made by Ms Lokhova. Managers should be trained to spot such behaviour initially, but particularly to deal with complaints effectively.

3 A spokesperson for the bank was quoted after the initial decision last year as saying “Sberbank… are committed to equal opportunities and promoting diversity”. With the finding of systemic failures, it seems this is a prime example of policy and practice diverging. It’s always important to ensure that employment handbooks and policies are communicated to staff, and words on the pages become everyday action. This can be encouraged through training when an employee joins, and continued refreshing throughout the period of their employment.

Ultimately the size of the award here should demonstrate that discrimination and grievance issues should not be taken lightly.

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