Bank embroiled in race tribunal over curry taunt

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The Independent Online

A vice-president at a leading City bank has accused one of her bosses of discrimination after he used the name of a curry dish to refer to an Indian member of staff.

Meena Sagoo, 42, who is bringing a £100,000 claim for racial discrimination against ING Services Ltd, also claims Asian workers were victimised because one of the bank's executives treated them as if they were members of the same Indian family.

It is the second race claim faced by ING this year. Last week Allan Ho, 29, won his claim for racial discrimination against the bank after he told a tribunal that managers referred to him as an "oriental sex god" who needed to be "soundly beaten".

Ms Sagoo, an £80,000-a-year vice-president working in the same department as Mr Ho, says her own career path was blocked by the managing director, Richard Mutter. She claims she has been targeted for dismissal after Mr Mutter previously targeted an Asian director, Jawaid Ali.

Ms Sagoo, from Hounslow, claims Asian staff were referred to as "Jawaid's relatives", and that Mr Mutter called her colleague Brij Bharati "bindi bhaji", a popular Indian vegetable dish.

When Brij Bharati was recruited, one Asian member of staff asked whether this was a good decision, because there was not enough racial balance within Mr Jawaid's department. Mr Bharati was later transferred to Ms Sagoo's team.

Ms Sagoo said: "A week or so prior to this, Richard Mutter came to my desk and said, 'I hear you've got a Bindi Bhaji joining your team'. I said, 'Actually Richard, his name is Brij Bharati, it can't be that difficult to pronounce!' Richard was smirking and thought it was a joke. I believe Richard's comment was offensive."

In her witness statement lodged with the employment tribunal, Ms Sagoo said she met Mr Mutter on 24 June 2004 to discuss her career development. "I think that he was a bit startled when he asked me whether I would be interested in doing his job, when I said, 'I want to go much higher in the organisation.' I also told him that there appeared to be no racial diversity at the senior levels within ING."

In February 2005, Ms Sagoo claims she was deliberately marked down in her appraisal.

In the earlier case brought by Mr Ho, the employment tribunal found that ING had discriminated on racial grounds against Mr Ho in his remuneration package. ING has agreed to pay him £10,000 in lost income.

Mr Ho claimed that he was denied promotion by his white line-manager. The employment tribunal found ING had blocked his career progression generally. Mr Ho was found to have been disadvantaged when a white colleague was appointed as Mr Richardson's deputy in August 2004.

Yesterday, the lawyer representing both Mr Ho and Ms Sagoo called on the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) to take action to combat the pay difference in the City. Lawrence Davies, of Equal Justice, said: "This decision brings ING and the law into the 21st century. Pay transparency is key to uncovering pay discrimination. It is well known that black staff receive unequal pay. It is time for the CRE to take proactive action, just as the Equal Opportunities Commission has done for women. We all know women are paid 23 per cent less than men, but how much are black staff paid less than white staff?"

ING entered investment banking in 1995, when it acquired, for a token £1, the UK bank Barings, which collapsed after the "rogue trader" Nick Leeson racked up huge losses. Two years later, ING bought the US securities firm Furman Selz for $US 600m and integrated it into ING Barings.

In a statement yesterday, ING denied discrimination. It said: "Ms Sagoo made a number of allegations... not all of which were previously raised with us in her grievance. Where allegations were raised, they were extensively and properly investigated by ING.

"Her grievance was not upheld and ING strongly denies that she has been discriminated against. ING is committed to a clear and open policy of respecting diversity in the workplace."

Discrimination in the City

* Last year, Deutsche Bank faced court action by one of its City high flyers in a landmark gay and race discrimination case. Sid Saeed claimed to have suffered homophobic and racist abuse at the hands of his colleagues. Mr Saeed, 36 and of Pakistani origin, was employed to assess risk, and is understood to have settled the claim, which was strongly defended by the bank.

* In July a branch of HSBC lost a race case after a senior member of staff told a colleague she would be voting for Robert Kilroy-Silk at the last election as she said he promised to "get rid of the foreigners". The remark was overheard by an employee, Ruby Schembri, 35, who sued. The tribunal ruled that the remark could be construed as racist and ordered HSBC and the supervisor to pay compensation. The case was one of the first to find that a comment not directly made to another can constitute racism.