The secretary who saw traders misbehaving after a few drinks

The judgement in the “witch’s hat” employment tribunal has been given, with a win for prime brokerage product manager, Stacey Macken.  After funding the court case from savings and a loan she had been asking for compensation of as much as £4m ($4.9m) (the amount of the settlement hasn’t been decided yet). It’s likely, therefore, that the staff of a large European investment bank are in the process of learning a couple of expensive lessons.

The first such lesson is “remember that the admin staff are watching”.  According to remarks made by the judge, the incident around Halloween when the famous hat was left on Ms Macken’s desk seems to have been quite important in supporting the case that discrimination had taken place (and therefore that the damages would not be capped).  And this incident was described in a witness statement from Georgina Chapman, one of the PAs to the department’s bosses. Chapman didn’t see the hat actually being placed, but did see a group of male employees being “loud and boisterous” and racing round the office at 8pm, after having come back from an afternoon in the pub.  It’s not clear whether it was a normal occurrence for the support staff to be working late while the revenue generators were out partying, but you don’t have to be a puritan to think that even if this hadn’t ended up as a costly legal case, it wouldn’t have been a great look.

The second one is “don’t assume it will stay in the office”.  One of Ms Macken’s colleagues was apparently in the habit of graphically describing his friends’ sexual role play, which will presumably make for a couple of awkward dinner parties now that it’s in the papers.  Another answered the phone with “Hi, sexy” (not too bad) and “Hi, F***face” (bad).  There were also a couple of running jokes about the way the boss treated Ms Mackem which fall into a category “could have seemed funny at the time, but are not at all funny when read out by a judge”.

Indeed, at times when reading the reports one has to remind oneself that this was actually a lawsuit about money – Ms Mackem was earning £120k while a man with similar experience was on £160k. Her combined bonuses over the period only totalled £33k while her male colleague’s were £167k .  The abusive banter blew big holes in the bank’s attempt to make a case that this reflected performance and seniority rather than discrimination, as did the hat and the secretary’s observation.

There is a lesson here.  It’s possible to banter without being crude or abusive, it’s possible to disagree with colleagues without belittling them and not only is this a good idea, it’s the law. There are two or three bankers who, as a result of this case, are presumably going to have a disappointing 2019 bonus and who will spend the rest of their career trying to manage the news story that’s now glued to their names.  It’s an old proverb for a reason – if you think it would look bad when your parents read it in the papers, don’t do it.

Daniel Davies –

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