French bank accused of handling ‘witch’s hat’ case

BNP Paribas has been reprimanded by the city watchdog for its handling of complaints from a female banker who faced gender discrimination while working in its London office, it has revealed.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) held several meetings with senior officials from the French bank’s human resources department, having them explain how accusations of unfair treatment and discrimination against Stacey Macken were dismissed, according to The Telegraph.

Ms Macken won a £2million payout earlier this year after judges ruled BNP unfairly discriminated against her because of her gender.

The banker, who worked in BNP’s prime brokerage division that deals with hedge funds, told an employment tribunal she had suffered years of bullying and was paid less than men in comparable roles.

The court heard drunken male colleagues placed a witch hat on Ms Macken’s desk, while senior staff also told her rude sex stories and shouted with the slogan ‘not now Stacey’.

Ms Macken has made repeated internal complaints about her treatment at BNP, including her salary and bonuses, which have been ignored.

In March 2019, the court ruled that BNP had subjected Ms Macken to “direct sexual discrimination and victimization”.

The heightened regulatory scrutiny of the case came as the FCA also carried out a ‘financial crime expert-led visit’ to the BNP in London on how it deals with its own whistleblowers.

The visit, which took place in December 2020, was disclosed in documents submitted to another labor court by a former BNP employee earlier this year.

The FCA ‘took action’ against the French lender in late 2020 following a review of BNP’s whistleblower processes after a handful of employees complained to the regulator, according to separate documents seen by The Telegraph.

It’s one of the first indications of tighter regulatory scrutiny of a bank’s systems and controls since the FCA fined former Barclays chief Jes Staley for his attempts to uncover a pitcher alert in 2018.

A spokesperson for the bank said: “Following the judgment almost three years ago, BNP Paribas has put in place a comprehensive remediation program and provided regular updates to our UK regulators.”

“As you’d expect, we have an open and cooperative relationship with our regulators and we have strong whistleblower policies and procedures to support our speak-up culture.”

The FCA declined to comment.

Earlier this year, the Telegraph revealed that a senior BNP lawyer had kept his job despite an investigation finding he had called an Asian colleague ‘Hu She’. The lawyer has since retired from the bank.

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