Does BNP Paribas have a problem with sexual harassment? The testimony of one former corporate finance junior at the French bank suggests it does. Or it did – the accusations relate to events six years ago, but BNP doesn’t appear that penitent regarding the alleged actions of one of its senior employees.
Printed earlier this week in French paper La Liberation, the accusations concern a now 30-year-old corporate finance professional who joined the bank aged 24 after graduating from a French grande ecole. Her claims make previous complaints of harassment in London seem tepid by comparison. The implication is that harassment can be worse at European banks, and worse still at comparatively unregulated offices in Asia.
Many of the claims in Liberation’s article are too explicit to publish. ‘Carole’, the then 24 year-old analyst claims to have found herself working in a team run by what she says was a “notorious pervert” who assailed her with inappropriate comments and propositions in the style of Harvey Weinstein (“«Je veux une fellation» and, “N’hésite pas à te masturber devant moi,”) and texted her in the middle of the night, despite multiple refusals. Eventually, after being invited into an office by this man and a colleague, who then allegedly made lewd comments and accused her of having no sense of humour because she hadn’t, “baisé récemment,” she went to HR. Their response wasn’t exactly satisfactory.
We haven’t spoken to BNP, but Liberation has – and to Carole’s boss. The alleged perpetrator, who still works for BNP – but in a different branch – told the paper he regrets his “inappropriate” words and actions and that he’s “several thousand” euros deducted from his bonus because of them. BNP Paribas confirmed that the existence of a sanction to Liberation and said it had taken “appropriate measures,” adding that problems like this can be, “counted on the fingers of one hand.”
Carole is now bringing a case against BNP. After raising the issue in Hong Kong, she was moved to another overseas office. However, she claims it soon became apparent that colleagues in Paris understood that she’d left Hong Kong because of “burnout” and that no one internally had been informed of her claims regarding the situation. Most pointedly, as Carole’s lawyer, Paris-based Charles Morel, explains, at no point did BNP Paribas seem to consider that sexual harassment, accompanied by acts which may constitute sexual assault, was reason for dismissal.