Eastern European ex-Citi VP wants £2.75m for race discrimination claim

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Georgi Mechkarov is a man on a mission. That mission has been going on for two years and nine months and is due to culminate this time next week in an East London employment tribunal, where Mechkarov will accuse Citi of persistently discriminating against him on the grounds of his race.

Mechkarov is from Bulgaria. He says discrimination against Eastern Europeans is endemic in the UK, and that this is the first time a UK employee of East European origin has stood up to it. Most Eastern Europeans don't know they have a right to non-discrimination on the grounds of their race, says Mechkarov: "Polish, Bulgarian, Romanian and other Eastern European nationals, who experience brutal acts of discrimination and hate crimes on a daily basis...choose to remain silent, in part because they are not aware of the available legal protections."

Mechkarov clearly is aware, and despite now working full-time as a vice president in Morgan Stanley's credit risk management team, he plans to represent himself against Citi in court.

His claim dates back to the years between 2010 and 2013, when he worked as a vice president on Citi's London bond transaction execution team after transferring across from Citi's Sofia office in Bulgaria.

An over-worked star performer 

Mechkarov claims he was a star performer at Citi. "I was consistently rated as an outstanding performer," says Mechkarov in court documents printed on his own website, adding that he, "rated 1 (top 5%) in 2007 to 2009 and rated 2 (top 25%) in 2010 and 2012." He also says he was rated the joint top performer in his class in banking in Citi's ,"West European cluster." Even so, and despite regularly working 16-hour days, Mechkarov earned a salary of £100k plus a bonus of more then 50% of his salary by the time he left.

Mechkarov's court documents from earlier hearings relating to his case suggest things started going wrong for the moment he arrived in London.

As a 28-year-old with a wife and child, he was unusual among other juniors and was housed by Citi in a "very small 1 bedroomed apartment" unsuited to his family. When he raised the issue with his then-manager, Mathieu Gelis, Mechkarov says he was told that, "In Western Europe, analysts and associates rarely have children, therefore Citi cannot pay for a bigger apartment for you even though having a child at the age of 28 may be considered normal in Bulgaria."

In the year that followed, Mechkarov says he was staffed on a disproportionate number of capital management transactions rather than more interesting bond transactions. When he raised this, he claims that Gelis told him, "You are not working on bond transactions because of the nature of your background - coming from a small office like the one in Bulgaria does not mean that you are sufficiently qualified to represent the bank with external law firms and bond issuers." This was despite Gelis working on deals with multinationals like Shell and Lukoil whilst in Sofia.

However, things really went downhill for Mechkarov in January 2012 when he was demoted from his role as staffer on his team and replaced by a Russian speaker, whom he claims the bank said had experience beyond, "the kind of credits to grocery stores that are approved in E. Europe." Thereafter, Mechkarov says his life at Citi became an "utter nightmare" as the new staffer, who had been appointed by Gelis and senior colleague Catherine Pierre, made his life hell by assigning him a disproportionate amount of the work. He claims that his team had to work particularly hard because Citi combined bond issuance with capital management, functions that are separate in other banks.

"I was under a great deal of stress and had to work on average 15 hours a day and sometimes had to stay in the office without going home for the night," Mechkarov claims, adding that his weight went from 90kg to 60kg during his time in London as a result of the stress. "On one of these mornings, Catherine Pierre made a remark passing by my desk, saying: ‘Aren’t people taking showers in Bulgaria?,‘ which was met with giggles and laughter by the wider team." On another occasion, he says Gelis told him, "The Bulgarian is getting ahead of himself."

Subsequently, when a round of redundancies was made at Citi in 2012, Mechkarov alleges that Pierre said loudly, "It is time to get rid of the Gypsies in the office." He took this to be directed at him, given the large Roma population in Bulgaria.

Voluntary redundancy after a physical breakdown 

Eventually, Mechkarov took voluntary redundancy from Citi in 2013 following ,"severe abdominal pains". Initially, he thought they were related to food poisoning, but the hospital suggest they were the result of stress at work.

Mechkarov claims that he only took voluntary redundancy because he struck a confidential deal with Pierre and Gelis, who said they would help him find a new job if he did.  Pierre denies this, along with Mechkarov's additional accusations that she threatened him when they met several times at a cafe near Citi to discuss his predicament (she claims in turn that he was threatening towards her and presented her with a list of headhunters, whom she says he asked her to call on his behalf.)

Ultimately, Mechkarov alleges that Gelis and Pierre, both of whom are French, discriminated against him both on the grounds of his Bulgarian nationality and because they felt threatened by his strong performance. "Despite their efforts in crushing me down in 2012, I still managed to keep up my performance at an excellent level (top 25% in 2012). This is when they started losing their temper and often times attacked me directly and publicly on the basis of my Bulgarian origin and nationality," he claims.

Bosses said to give no credit for a new loan charge idea 

Mechkarov claims credit for a ‘Loan Transfer Charge’' methodology which Citi rolled out in 2011. He says he presented this idea to Gelis, whom he says declared the idea was "good" and promised to discuss it with fellow MDs. Two months later, he says the charge was rolled out 90% in accordance with his plan, but that he was entirely excluded from its implementation: "My name had never been mentioned internally in relation to the Loan Transfer Charge methodology, which is used to-date by Citi in over 100 countries world-wide."

Mechkarov alleges that innovations like the Loan Transfer Charge, compared with his strong performance and his popularity with other Citi MDs and clients means he was a political threat to his bosses at the bank. "They were ready to do anything to achieve their goals and they knew that they had to stop me as early as possible in my career, so that they remove me as a potential threat to their ambitions," he claims. If he hadn't left Citi in 2013, Mechkarov says he would have likely been promoted to director in 2016 and then possibly MD a few years after that, putting him in direct competition with Pierre for, "the limited number of high-paid roles of senior managers with direct business development or functional responsibilities."

Citi denies everything, offers small out of court settlement 

Citi denies all Mechkarov's accusations. A spokeswoman for the bank told us, "Citi is vigorously defending itself and its employees against Mr Mechkarov's allegations, which are entirely without merit.”

The case is due to begin on November 13th. Mechkarov says Citi offered him £8.3k to settle out of court in July, which he turned down. He's demanding £2.75m in damages and wants Citi to institute anti-discrimination training to prevent other East Europeans from being treated similarly.

Eastern Europeans in the UK are unfairly blamed for everything from problems with the NHS to unemployment, says Mechkarov. "It is always the Polish, Romanian, Bulgarian and other Eastern European immigrants, who are the silent scapegoats of a poisonous and ever-escalating rhetoric. The result is discrimination and hate crimes that spread across all layers of British society at an unprecedented scale.

"In this environment, it is very important that Eastern Europeans living and working in the UK become aware that we are protected by UK and EU law which allows us to fight against those who perpetrate hate crimes and discriminate against us." 

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com

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Photo credit: Citigroup London by Håkan Dahlström is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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