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Morning Coffee: Harsh ruling for the female banker who claimed she should earn more than her male boss, and Lloyd Blankfein takes to Twitter trolling in retirement

There was an unusual banking industry sex discrimination case decided in the Central London Employment Tribunal yesterday – unusual in that it didn’t involve alcohol, bullying, junior employees or harassment, and the male manager won.  Donna Ball, a commercial banking manager at Coutts, had been suing the bank for discrimination after failing to get promoted in 2017, and in the belief that her 2018 bonus had been reduced after initiating an internal grievance claim.

In the initial reports, it looked like a reasonable, if not exactly open and shut case; Ms Ball had been billing revenues of just under £2m ($2.6m) and felt that the bar had been artificially raised for her compared to male colleagues when she was told that she needed to be generating £2.5m in order to get promoted.  She cited a “gentlemens’ club” culture and “unspoken sexism” at Coutts and these allegations were on the face of them not outlandish given some high profile harassment complaints at the bank last year (which are themselves now the subject of an unfair dismissal case brought by the accused banker).

But as the case went on, things got much less convincing under cross-examination.  It turned out that Ms Ball was in fact being paid more than most of her male colleagues, and that one of her reasons for believing that she ought to be paid more than her immediate manager was that she had a law degree and he didn’t.  The manager accused of “triple glazing the glass ceiling” had actually repeatedly put her forward for promotion but she’d not been successful and hadn’t interviewed well.  The tribunal (led by a female judge) found that there had been no discrimination, no breach of equal pay rules and no victimisation for the complaint; the court found that the manager was justified in finding her to be an adequate performer, but no better.

Ball appears to have fallen victim to the consequences of ambitious people combined with a rigorous promotion process, leading to a terrible loss of perspective.  If you want to move from associate director/VP to director in a bank, you'll need to get past a promotion board, and this is a stage at which lots of careers stall. It can be horribly frustrating for people who sincerely believe that they’re good enough to make it to the top.  It’s all too easy to get out of touch with reality and to start looking for scapegoats, because the alternative is to take an objective look at one’s own career, performance and fit and start asking the sort of hard questions that often end in a job move.

While uncomfortable, asking yourself those hard questions is generally much better in the long run.  Ms Ball has been on sick leave since failing to be promoted in September last year and will now end this tribunal case in a substantially worse position than when she started. 

Elsewhere, former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein appears to be dabbling in that popular pastime of sharp-witted people with a little spare time on their hands – the Twitter feud.  The once-active account had gone silent over recent months, but when Bernie Sanders brought forward proposals to outlaw share buybacks, Lloyd returned, tweeting in defense of giving the money back to shareholders.  One of the good things about being Lloyd Blankfein is that you get your tweets returned, and indeed this happened; Senator Sanders responded that instead of enriching billionaire shareholders “how about increasing wages for American workers? Is that a bad idea?”

Possibly Bernie had forgotten that “increasing wages for American workers” might have a different connotation in the context of Goldman Sachs, or maybe Lloyd had been setting a subtle trap and the firebrand leftist fell into it.  In any case, the Sanders tweet left an opening for a snarky response – “Never thought I’d hear Sen. Sanders criticize me for not paying higher wages at my old firm”.  As yet, Bernie has not recovered from that one.  It’s not exactly the heights of satire, but by the standards of the usual interactions between a retired CEO and a US Senator, it’s comedy gold.


If you’re still running your bank, on the other hand, you probably can’t just carry out your dealings with left wing Democrats by means of Twitter jokes.  The government relations departments of the big US banks are having to strategise on how they want to engage with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez  (Reuters)

The constant drip of stories continues with more information and conjecture about how the German government might be thinking about Deutsche Bank ... (Bloomberg)

... with each one seemingly accompanied by an equal and opposite piece detailing Christian Sewing’s plans to continue with a strategy based on Deutsche going it alone (also Bloomberg)

Janus Henderson’s star fund manager – no, not that one, Richard Pease – had an extraordinary special agreement with his employer that if he left the firm, he could take his fund with him.  The two sides are now suing each other over the question of how much of the fees should have been paid to the new venture, and how much rebated to Janus. (Bloomberg)

Euromoney have opened up their paywall for a retrospective of fifty years’ coverage of the private banking industry, including stories about a client who kept a diamond hidden in his forehead and, more recently, a profile of James Gorman’s transformation of Morgan Stanley’s wealth business (Euromoney)

A 16% pay gap between white MBA graduates and minorities; this is smaller than the 24% pay gap going into the programs, but still big (WSJ)

Bill Gross even outperformed the index as a stamp collector – broadly based indices of collectable stamps (apparently they exist) are weighted toward old British stamps which have done badly, but Gross’s legendary collection was heavily weighted toward US stamps and rarities (Financial News)

Bad news in the fourth quarter for BNP Paribas may lead to further cost cuts ...(FT)

... while the Bloomberg list of financial firms which have announced redunancy plans since January 1 is now in double figures (Bloomberg)

And scientists, hopefully with good intentions for humanity, have created a set of brain implants for a rat which allow it to be controlled with sufficient precision for a human to navigate it by brain-to-brain control through a maze (Nature)

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AUTHORDaniel Davies Insider Comment
  • An
    17 February 2019

    The ruling was harsh for the female banker, but not for those who were accused of sexism.

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