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Young French banker's claims of outrageous harassment at BNP Paribas

Does BNP Paribas have a problem with sexual harassment? The testimony of one former corporate finance junior at the French bank suggests it does. Or it did - the accusations relate to events six years ago, but BNP doesn't appear that penitent regarding the alleged actions of one of its senior employees.

Printed earlier this week in French paper La Liberation, the accusations concern a now 30-year-old corporate finance professional who joined the bank aged 24 after graduating from a French grande ecole. Her claims make previous complaints of harassment in London seem tepid by comparison. The implication is that harassment can be worse at European banks, and worse still at comparatively unregulated offices in Asia.

Many of the claims in Liberation's article are too explicit to publish. 'Carole', the then 24 year-old analyst claims to have found herself working in a team run by what she says was a "notorious pervert" who assailed her with inappropriate comments and propositions in the style of Harvey Weinstein ("«Je veux une fellation» and, "N’hésite pas à te masturber devant moi,")  and texted her in the middle of the night, despite multiple refusals. Eventually, after being invited into an office by this man and a colleague, who then allegedly made lewd comments and accused her of having no sense of humour because she hadn't, "baisé récemment," she went to HR. Their response wasn't exactly satisfactory.

We haven't spoken to BNP, but Liberation has - and to Carole's boss. The alleged perpetrator, who still works for BNP - but in a different branch - told the paper he regrets his "inappropriate" words and actions and that he's "several thousand" euros deducted from his bonus because of them. BNP Paribas confirmed that the existence of a sanction to Liberation and said it had taken "appropriate measures," adding that problems like this can be, "counted on the fingers of one hand."

Carole is now bringing a case against BNP. After raising the issue in Hong Kong, she was moved to another overseas office. However, she claims it soon became apparent that colleagues in Paris understood that she'd left Hong Kong because of "burnout" and that no one internally had been informed of her claims regarding the situation. Most pointedly, as Carole's lawyer, Paris-based Charles Morel, explains, at no point did BNP Paribas seem to consider that sexual harassment, accompanied by acts which may constitute sexual assault, was reason for dismissal.

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • An
    2 November 2017

    While the allegations may well be true, and if so are disgusting and should have been punished accordingly, it is worth bearing in mind that this is only one side of the story and it important to hear the other side. This case now constitutes a claim against BNP Paribas, so there is the possibility that the allegations are giving only one side of the story. While the language used is sexual in nature and appears damning, it depends on the context in which it was used, as I've seen similar language used in most banks, instigated by women and men, and intended and received as sexually charged banter. I'm not saying that is the case here, but sexual language in banks isn't uncommon.

    Questions I had on reading the article were as follows:

    1) Why is the claim only being made now for alleged incidents dating back to 2012? There may well be a valid reason for this, but it is a reasonable question (in the UK, for example, it is only possible to make a claim for sexual harassment within 3 months of the event).

    2) The accused is described as a 'notorious pervert'. What was meant by this – what was the extent of his notoriety and what is meant by 'pervert' in the context – were there previous allegations against him – if so, what were they? Was his 'notoriety' known prior to the alleged incidents? The language used seems prejorative, but these may not be the words used by the claimant.

    3) What were the findings of HR's investigation? Was it found that the accused and his colleague had made the remarks described to the accuser? What about the alleged texts – were they proven? While it appears that some finding of harassment was made I would have thought that the allegations, if proven in full, would have resulted in dismissal – it would be interesting to know if the allegations were fully made out and if they were, why the accused wasn't dismissed. If it turns out that the findings of the investigation were that the accused's behaviour was not as serious as what he was accused of, that might explain why he was not dismissed. Of course, it could also be the case that the allegations were completely true and that he wasn't dismissed because he is a senior manager.

    Although it is true that branch offices can operate like personal fiefdoms, I don't think that BNP Paribas, or indeed European banks , have more of a sexual harassment problem than other banks, and I can think of banks from regions where the culture is far more oppressive towards women. Sexual harassment is abuse of power and is just one manifestation of bullying which takes place in banks due to the way they are structured. The danger of singling out one bank because of a court case which has attracted publicity is that that bank them come under pressure to be seen to be 'taking seriously' claims of sexual harassment. This could result in males being sexually harassed by HR and management if they are investigated for trivial matters or where conflicts between staff are sexualised as a way of HR trying to demonstrate a 'zero tolerance' policy or show they are 'taking the matter seriously'.

    I am not saying that the incidents didn't happen in that manner described by the accuser, but the claims do raise some questions, and I'd like to at least hear the defence and understand the methodology and results of any HR investigation before reaching a conclusion.

    In any case, I'd like to see how this claim progresses and hopefully we'll see an update in due course.

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