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Gay bias persists in banks, says claimant

 

HSBC ex-trader relaunches claim

 

Homophobia led to sacking, Lewis says

 

Discrimination and homophobia in the financial services industry persists despite an improvement in attitudes, a senior banker told Stratford employment tribunal yesterday.

 

Peter Lewis, a former head of equity trading at HSBC, also said he believed that the mindset in the investment banking sector towards equal opportunities generally “lagged [behind] those of other industries”.

 

His comments were made as the 46-year-old banker relaunched legal claims that human resources staff at HSBC “rushed to judgment” against him because he was gay.

 

Mr Lewis believes that alleged bias cost him his job and is pursuing a claim of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation against the bank.

 

HSBC, by contrast, maintains there was no discrimination and says the banker was dismissed for gross misconduct following a sexual harassment complaint from another staff member.

 

Cross-examined yesterday on why he believed that the broader observations were relevant, Mr Lewis said the bank, in its own evidence to the tribunal, had pointed at length to its stated employment policies and official efforts to promote diversity. 

 

But the banker said: “There is often a gap between what is written in an employee handbook and what is implemented on the ground.”

 

His own large team of traders – which had been budgeted to increase to 300 people when he joined HSBC in September 2004 after a 21-year career in the City – was “very homogenous”, Mr Lewis said.  It had not included a single woman and “very few” people from different ethnic backgrounds.

 

The banker also said that at the time, no one in the trading team had had any contact with the bank’s formal “diversity committee”. 

 

The internal investigation at the heart of Mr Lewis’s complaint relates to events in November 2004, when a junior HSBC employee, “Mr A”, accused the banker of lewd conduct in the changing rooms at the company’s gym.

 

Mr Lewis has consistently denied those allegations.  But the discrimination case centres not on the truth or otherwise of Mr A’s account but on whether HSBC’s subsequent investigation was biased because of Mr Lewis’s sexual orientation.

 

Last year another employment tribunal heard the case and found that the banker had been less favourably treated because of his sexual orientation in four respects in the early stages of the internal inquiry.  But it rejected his claims of bias on another 12 grounds – including, crucially, the bank’s final decision to dismiss him for gross misconduct.

 

After complicated appeal proceedings, more senior judges decided the original tribunal had gone beyond the scope of what it was asked to decide when it found in favour of Mr Lewis on the four claims won.  It ordered a rehearing of that part of the case, which began yesterday at Stratford employment tribunal.

 

The findings on the part of the case that the banker, who had joined the bank on a guaranteed package worth £1.6m over two years, lost at the earlier tribunal are not being reopened.

 

The case has had a high profile, partly because it was the first significant legal action involving City workers to reach an employment tribunal after discrimination laws were extended to cover gays and lesbians in 2003.

 

It has raised novel legal issues, such as what comparison should be used when deciding whether the treatment of a gay employee is discriminatory.  Lawyers for Mr Lewis, building on an House of Lords decision, have also argued that the banker does not need to establish that the discrimination by HR staff was conscious.

 

“Financial Times” 7th September 2007