A senior City trader has accused a global banking firm of "innuendo, stereotype and homophobia" after he was dismissed over allegations of sexual harassment, which left his 23-year career in ruins.
Peter Lewis, 45, who is openly gay, was sacked from his million-pound-a-year job as Global Head of Equities Trading by HSBC - which this week reported record profits for a UK bank of £12bn - after complaints of improper conduct in a gym changing room.
Just months after he was headhunted to the post, his career as a respected investment banker lay in tatters as he was dismissed for gross misconduct.
The former trader began his employment tribunal against HSBC yesterday. It is the largest case of its kind since regulations came into force in December 2003 extending sexual discrimination rules to include gay employees. Mr Lewis is claiming discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and seeking £5m compensation. "I believe that if I was a heterosexual man these allegations would have received the ridicule that they deserve," he said.
HSBC has said it "utterly rejects the allegations" and plans to "vigorously defend" the claim, insisting Mr Lewis was recruited in the knowledge that he was homosexual. The case promises not only to embarrass the high-profile bank but the Square Mile at large.
Mr Lewis said his open and long-term relationship with his partner was considered unusual enough to attract consider amount of comment and remarks in the world of investment banking. "The situation has improved but discrimination and homophobia in the financial services industry has not been eliminated."
The tribunal at Stratford heard that shortly after he was recruited to head up equity trading he began receiving abusive phone calls. On the night of 4 November 2004 he said he was approached by a man while in the gym changing room and challenged rudely. "Having worked in investment banking for 23 years, I am used to the aggressive, macho, male culture that exists there and I have heard far worse language on the trading floor," Mr Lewis said in his statement.
Five days later he discovered that the same man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had referred to him as a "nonce" and accused Mr Lewis of watching him in the changing room before going into the shower cubicle and masturbating. "I was completely shocked, aghast and upset at this allegation which was totally false ... I was and still am in a very happy, stable, long-term relationship which has lasted 10 years ... I repeatedly and vehemently denied the allegation," explained the banker.
"Unfortunately there are still a significant number of people who think all gay people are promiscuous and seek casual sex, even in a relationship ... I find the assumption that I would be more likely to engage in the sort of disgusting behaviour as alleged by Mr A because of my sexual orientation to be abhorrent."
The tribunal heard that Mr Lewis was suspended, banned from contacting colleagues and clients while speculation among the trading team led to rumours that he was on "compassionate leave" because he or his partner had developed Aids.
Following a formal investigation and disciplinary hearing he was dismissed and his later appeal failed.
The tribunal continues.Reuse content