City traders saw women as 'sex objects' in 'culture of discrimination', tribunal hears

Former Jefferies Group employee is suing the bank for £3.5m

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City traders at a leading investment bank saw women as sex objects and called “bid” for those they considered attractive and “offer only” for those they disliked, according to evidence submitted to an employment tribunal.  

Dalal Alaoui Belghiti alleged that during her time on the European credit sales team at the Jefferies Group there was a “culture of discrimination” that led her to resign. The Moroccan national with British citizenship is now suing the bank, whose headquarters are in New York, for £3.5m.

Damages in employment cases are normally capped at about £78,300, unless there is a finding of discrimination or the claimant wins status as a whistle-blower.

In a witness statement, which was submitted to a tribunal at Victory House in London, Ms Alaoui Belghiti said that women “were seen as mere sex objects”, adding that her male colleagues would be openly derogatory about their female co-workers. 

“These men could say what they liked and were apparently beyond reproach, so I didn’t want to make myself a target,” she said.

 

One colleague “best known for his off-colour remarks and inappropriate behaviour,” once hired four women as “entertainment” at a client dinner she attended, she said.

At a club “all four women began to touch the men suggestively and to take their hands and press them against their bodies in a sexual manner,” she added.

This had left Ms Alaoui Belghiti feeling “very uncomfortable”, she said.   “I was boiling with rage at his behaviour,” she said in the document.

On a more general level she said some of her colleagues routinely “held inappropriate and sexualised conversations” at work. “They would often discuss their former relationships with Jeffries’ employees... and make general sexualised comments,” she said.  

Another colleague had shown her an intimate picture of his girlfriend, a Credit Suisse employee, wearing only a bra and G-string, she said.  

She said she “realised early on that it was better for me to ignore or try to brush off my male colleagues remarks”. She added that she wanted to show that she could do the job, despite of all the problems and initially she did not report the men for their behaviour. 

As a result, she said, her mental health suffered and she became “isolated and excluded” by male staff, before she left the company in March 2014.

At the tribunal, James Laddie, lawyer for Jefferies, said that Ms Alaoui Belghiti had had “problems where [she] worked before due to [her] personality”. Ms Alaoui Belghiti’s performance was “hugely down” in 2013 compared to the previous year, he said.

Ms Alaoui Belghiti acknowledged that she had a temper and had always been ready to voice her opinion and stand up for herself. “I do not know if I will be able to work in finance again,” she said.

Richard Khaleel, a spokesman for Jefferies in New York, told Bloomberg that the allegations by Ms Alaoui Belghiti were “meritless and unfounded” and the bank expected to prevail at the tribunal. The bank said in court that her lack of experience in the industry and her disengagement from the team led to her poor performance.

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