Male finance boss claims female associate gave him mixed signals

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Maybe it was all a terrible misunderstanding? As we've reported here in recent weeks, 50 year-old infrastructure fund manager Frederic Michel-Verdier stands accused of sending inappropriate texts and saying inappropriate things to Natalie Abildgaard, a 27 year-old female associate with whom he was partying at the (two-star rated) Bling Bling nightclub in Madrid last March to celebrate closing a deal for IFM Investors, where they both worked. The two are currently fighting it out in a London employment tribunal. She's trying to sue him for harassment; he denies harassing her and says her claims have been "hurtful," both to himself and to his wife.

None of this is new news. Events in the London employment tribunal were reported last week. However, supporters of Michel-Verdier say the media paid far more attention to Michel-Verdier's alleged salacious statements (Abildgaard says he told her, "I know more about sex. I can teach you a lot of things," and that he said, "If I was 20 years younger, I would have been all over you," which he denies) than to Michel-Verdier's rebuttals.

"None of the journalists really followed Michel-Verdier's cross-examination," complains one of his supporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They were only really interested in Abildgaard's written testimony." As such, Michel-Verdier is emerging as an unlikely figurehead for male financiers who feel at most wronged, and at least feel confused by the growing #metoo movement.

Michel-Verdier's supporters point to his under-reported testimony, in which he claimed that Abildgaard gave him mixed signals. While he doesn't deny sending her his room number in the message, ''Yes 111 come )))' whilst they were sitting around a table at Bling Bling, Michel-Verdier said this was entirely in context with their previous conversation. - He claims that Abildgaard repeatedly asked him for his room number during the evening (initially because she would need it for checking-out as he booked the hotel on his company card) and twice after that in what appeared to be a joke. The latter two times, he says Abildgaard also suggested she would "pop in," but that he took this as part of their running joke. When he texted her, ''Yes 111 come )))' , Michel-Verdier says he and Abildgaard were still sitting around the table in the club and that he clearly didn't intend her to visit room 111. He also said that he sent the message in response to Abildgaard asking for his room number.

Texting a junior employee your room number is a clear transgression of workplace boundaries. However, Michel-Verdier's supporters claim that he wasn't the only one crossing boundaries last March. In his testimony, the fund manager claimed that Abildgaard spoke 'very candidly' about 'personal' matters earlier in the Madrid trip, and told him that, "If you're staying then I am staying," when he decided to remain in Spain an extra night in order to celebrate.

The hearing concluded last Friday. Abildgaard, who would have earned £94k following an expected promotion, and who claims to have spent £50k already on legal fees, is asking IFM to compensate her for the loss of her bonus when she resigned in the wake of the incident. Michel-Verdier already had his bonus cut, but is still in employment.

IFM isn't commenting on the case, except to say that it investigated the matter "immediately," that it takes, "allegations of workplace misconduct extremely seriously," and that it, "goes to great lengths to foster a positive, equal and respectful workplace culture and we work continuously to improve our organisation."

If Abildgaard wins, the case will send a severe chill through senior finance professionals who have long been used to operating in an environment where "banter" is tolerated. If Michel-Verdier wins, men in finance will have a new hero - and a strong reasons to avoid overtly personal conversations with their female juniors, either in nightclubs or out.

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