Women take on the City sexists: Female investment star in landmark case after boss's 'you slept with client' slur

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A high-flying female investment banker walked out on a £300,000-a-year job after her boss accused her of sleeping with a client. Now, major City institutions are bracing themselves for the outcome of the David-and-Goliath, sex-discrimination battle between Kay Swinburne and the biggest bank in the world.

A high-flying female investment banker walked out on a £300,000-a-year job after her boss accused her of sleeping with a client. Now, major City institutions are bracing themselves for the outcome of the David-and-Goliath, sex-discrimination battle between Kay Swinburne and the biggest bank in the world.

If she wins the landmark case against her employer, Deutsche Bank, she will have set a precedent in the financial world which, according to legal and financial observers, will open the floodgates to other disgruntled women employed in the "testosterone-driven" Square Mile.

The importance of the case has not gone unnoticed by the German bank, which has spent more than £500,000 so far to field a legal team of at least 12, including seven lawyers, headed by the employment heavyweight Jeremy McMullen QC.

Ms Swinburne told the north London industrial tribunal that she was driven out of her senior job in Deutsche's investment banking division last year because she felt an official complaint she had made about her immediate superior's sexual innuendos was not being taken seriously. Her leading counsel, John Hand QC, argued that her future career prospects within the company had diminished because she was regarded as a "whistle blower" after complaining about Hugh Tidbury.

During two days of giving evidence and being cross-examined, Ms Swinburne said her boss suggested she must have slept with a client when he learned she had taken the senior executive out for a business dinner. The remark, she said, was one of many made by Mr Tidbury which she found deeply offensive as they questioned her professional integrity.

Although the bank made a public apology to Ms Swinburne through Mr McMullen, it vehemently denied that her career was affected because of her official complaint about Mr Tidbury, the son of Sir Charles Tidbury, a major City figure and a friend of the Royal Family.

However, Ms Swinburne, one of the most qualified women in the City with a PhD in medical biochemistry and an MBA, said she felt she was overlooked for promotion after Mr Tidbury's inappropriate comments.

The tribunal ran out of time to hear all the evidence and the case was adjourned until 22 December, when it is expected to run for two days before a judgement is made.

The bank's lawyers asked for a legal gag to stop the names of Mr Tidbury and the bank being made public, but the chairman of the tribunal, Mr David Roose, rejected their request, saying that the hearing was public and the media had a right to report the facts.

Deutsche is highly sensitive to accusations of "institutionalised sexism" and is keen to be seen as a company which promotes and encourages talented women. According to internal documents seen by the Independent on Sunday, Deutsche is thinking of introducing a mentoring and network system to encourage high-achieving women within the company.

"This issue is such a hot potato that the majority of people who know Swinburne aren't even aware of why she left," one of the company's managing directors said privately. "They think it has something to do with our merger with Bankers Trust and that she's moved on elsewhere.

"About a month after she complained, Hugh was taken out for a long lunch and had his wrists slapped, but I think Swinburne expected more direct action. It's a very difficult issue and I suppose she feels aggrieved because her next promotion would have taken her into seven figures.

"The City has always been sexist and it is going to take years to alter people's minds and attitudes but I think most women know what to expect," he added.

Neither Ms Swinburne nor her solicitor, Sarah Lamont, of employment specialists Bevan Ashford in London, would comment about the case. Deutsche Bank also declined to comment.

It had already attracted unwelcome publicity earlier this year when another City banker, Leanne Hay, claimed she was fired from her £65,000-a-year job because she was pregnant. She also alleged that the "brutal and callous" manner in which she was "frogmarched" from the group's London headquarters led to a miscarriage a few days later.

Mrs Hay, whose case has yet to be heard, claimed the group, parent firm of the company that sacked banker Nicola Horlick three years ago, was heavily male-dominated with an old-boys-club atmosphere. Deutsche denied her allegations, saying she was made redundant under normal restructuring.

Ms Horlick, dubbed "Superwoman" by the tabloids, shot to fame after a battle over her £1m-a-year job with the bank when she was sacked from its asset-management arm, Morgan Grenfell, allegedly for poaching staff and therefore breaking her contract. Ms Horlick, who was on maternity leave after giving birth to her sixth child, unexpectedly walked into the bank's headquarters in Frankfurt with a flock of television cameras and other media in tow to negotiate her employment dispute.

The publicity-shy organisation was stunned by the stunt and a settlement was duly reached, propelling Ms Horlick into stardom and giving her a reputation as a woman not to be messed with.

Employment law specialist Stephen Beverley, of solicitors Green Vine Beverley Palos, said he and a number of other solicitors will have their sights trained on the outcome of Ms Swinburne's tribunal because of its landmark potential.

"I have three actions against Deutsche Bank and have nearly 50 other cases against banks and financial institutions in the City pending," he said. "Some of my clients are still employed and I am advising them in the background as to how and when to deal with the discrimination that they're facing."