Irish are ‘lying, stealing time-wasters,’ tribunal hears
Dismissed banker left ‘a broken woman’ after accounts given to male colleagues
Massimiliano Lami appears at the London Central Employment Tribunal yesterday. Photograph: National Pictures/Hannah McKay
Isabel Sitz said sexism forced her out of a £95,000-a-year job at Oppenheimer Europe which was known as “Bunga Bunga securities”, a reference to Silvio Berlusconi’s sex parties. Photograph: National Pictures/Nick Edwards
An ex-Oppenheimer Europe executive director has told an employment tribunal her boss called the Irish a bunch of lying, cheating time-wasters interested only in beer and rugby.
City banker Isabel Sitz said sexism forced her out of a £95,000 a year job at Oppenheimer Europe, which was known internally as “bunga bunga securities” – a reference to Silvio Berlusconi’s infamous sex parties.
The London Central Employment Tribunal heard Ms Sitz, who was an executive director in US equity sales at the investment bank, was left a “broken woman” after most of her accounts were given to male colleagues.
She claims she was shunted to the sidelines after the appointment of new chief executive Max Lami in July 2009, who gave the best business to “his boys”, whom he hired.
Ms Sitz said she tried to keep her head down, but was left even more frustrated when another of her bosses, Robert Van Den Bergh, said he was handing her Irish accounts to a man – Jonathan Todman – because he could bond with Irish clients over beer and rugby.
Mr Van Den Bergh was taped by Ms Sitz describing the Irish as “lying, cheating, stealing, time-wasters” and telling her she was being taken off the accounts because they were being given to a male broker who could “go drinking” and to the rugby with them.
“He went on to explain it is mostly about beer and rugby in Ireland and so he thought I should be removed from the Irish accounts and they should be given to Mr Todman who could take the clients to rugby matches.”
Mr Van Den Bergh, who is head of UK accounts at Oppenheimer Europe, rebutted claims that the “unfair and disparaging comments about the Irish is symptomatic” of how his “prejudices” influenced him.
He insisted he only took Ms Sitz off the Irish accounts because she was “irrelevant and unknown” to the clients and said his comments were a light-hearted attempt to take her off the accounts without hurting her feelings.
He told the tribunal: “I could do one of two things; I [can] tell her that as far as Ireland is concerned, and these are two things which for a broker are probably the worst things you can hear in your life, that you are irrelevant and unknown.Or I could do what I probably in effect did, [which] is make a bit of a joke about it, saying they are not the right kind of people for you, you are better than that.”
Ms Sitz also told the tribunal that male colleagues often referred to Oppenheimer in emails as “bunga bunga”.
“I kept my head down and worked rather than listening but there were also emails sent around, such as the reference to OpCo as ‘bunga bunga securities’ (when bunga bunga refers to erotic parties with sexual favours dispensed to men by women) which to my mind was demeaning.”
It is claimed that Mr Lami told her in September 2009 that her Morgan Stanley account was going to be given to a man and accused the Spanish-born banker of having a “verbal problem” and not being British enough.
She “pleaded” and “begged” to be given more accounts and be allowed to contact potential clients but these were “ignored” and her account book was “a sham”, the tribunal was told.
By 2012 she was left with just four accounts, only two of which made significant money, she claims.
In a review that May she was asked to take an £80,000 wage cut to reduce her basic salary to £15,000.
‘Caught up in a fantasy’
Ms Sitz was signed off work sick with stress and received a letter on May 25th last year formally telling her that she was “at risk” of redundancy.
She was made redundant that June, and is now suing the firm for unfair dismissal, sex and race discrimination. The company denies the claims.
In a statement to the tribunal, Mr Lami said Ms Sitz’s treatment was not because she was a woman or Spanish and that by 2012, “a significant element of Isabel’s core client base had abandoned her”. He said Ms Sitz was “caught up in a fantasy of her own making”.
The tribunal continues.