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Cantor sued for £1.5m by high-flyer 'bullied' into quitting

A city highflier has launched a £1.5m lawsuit against his former employer, Cantor Fizgerald, alleging that the chief executive of the global brokerage firm bullied him into quitting his job.

Steve Horkulak, who headed the company's global interest-rate derivatives desk, is one of a string of former employees to detail Cantor's chauvinist culture in a damaging legal run-in with the company. Mr Horkulak's case, which began yesterday in the High Court, centres on allegations of a list of aggressive encounters with Lee Amaitis, chief executive of Cantor.

Mr Amaitis "could be openly and gratuitously offensive about various groups of people", Mr Horkulak said. They included people he referred to as "slanty-eyed yellow fucks," Mr Horkulak also alleged in court. Giving details of a business trip to Tokyo, Mr Horkulak said that after dinner Mr Amaitis declared it was "time for the ballet" - in reality a visit to a lap dancing club called For Your Eyes Only.

Mr Horkulak, 39, who now works for a rival brokerage, Tullet, told the court: "By March 2000 I was frequently being subjected to aggressive outbursts from Mr Amaitis. He would shout at me and scream at me almost every time that we spoke. I was living my life in complete fear of Mr Amaitis and was close to a nervous breakdown because of the way that he had treated me."

Cantor won worldwide sympathy when 658 of its employees died in the terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001 and Mr Amaitis moved many in the City and on Wall Street with his dignified public statements.

But the Brooklyn-born executive has subsequently become far more associated with the wrangles Cantor has become involved in with former staff and with rival firm, Icap.

Once dubbed the "invisible man" for his decision not to give evidence in a court case, Mr Amaitis will have a chance to defend his reputation at the High Court this week.

Charles Bear QC, who is representing Cantor, said the working environment was robust but strongly denied the bullying claim. "My clients certainly don't hold themselves out as being the Church Commissioners. It's a rough world in which they operate and of course Mr Horkulak had been part of that for many years and was correspondingly highly-paid with high expectations of him in what is accepted to be a high pressure environment," he said. Mr Bear also alleged that Mr Horkulak had been a heavy alcohol and cocaine user for a period of his career at Cantor. Mr Horkulak was paid a salary of £250,000 a year, a bonus of £100,000 for the year ending September 2000 and an annual discretionary bonus, according to the documents. He joined Cantor in 1997 and left in June 2000.