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Ex-Sherbank Saleswoman Sues Bank Over ‘Cokehead’ E-Mails

A former equity saleswoman at OAO Sberbank’s London unit sued the bank for sexual discrimination, claiming colleagues sent messages referring to her as “Ms. Cokehead” and “mad Svetlana,” according to documents from her U.K. employment tribunal claim.

Svetlana Lokhova went on leave because of stress in January 2012 and never returned after colleagues on the all-male equity sales desk created a hostile work environment and showed “a demeaning and offensive attitude to women,” she alleged in the documents.

Lokhova, 32, sued Sberbank CIB (UK) Ltd. for sexual discrimination, harassment and breaching whistle-blower protection rules. A London tribunal case starting today is set to last for more than five weeks and include 15 witnesses. Damages awarded by the tribunal, normally capped at about 70,000 pounds ($106,100), are unlimited in discrimination and whistle-blower claims.

Sberbank will fight the suit and is “confident that it has acted appropriately and lawfully,” bank spokesman Paul Marriott said in a statement. Lokhova’s lawyer Sean Dempsey declined to immediately comment.

Lokhova didn’t disclose she was setting up a new investment business called DECS Capital Investments Ltd. when she rejoined Russia’s largest lender in 2011, the bank alleged in documents setting out its defense. She had resigned as a fixed income saleswoman there in 2010. Sberbank argued there isn’t sufficient evidence of unlawful sexual discrimination, and alleged that Lokhova was performing badly, according to court papers.

Tribal Leaders

Two days before her arrival, Sberbank’s U.K. head of equity sales David Longmuir sent e-mails to clients saying “awaiting arriving of Ms. Cokehead,” and “they’ve hired mad Svetlana to do to equity sales,” according to her claim.

At one point, colleagues circulated e-mails saying she needed to visit tribal leaders in Nigeria in order to “calm her down,” and included obscene references to sexual acts, according to legal documents.

While Longmuir said he made “misguided and unprofessional comments,” it was because he didn’t like her, not because of her gender, the bank said in its documents. Marriott said Longmuir declined to comment.

The London office was formerly part of Troika Dialog, which was bought by Sberbank in January 2012.

Lokhova left her first job at the bank after accusing a colleague of illegal front-running, a practice in which traders profit from advance knowledge of a deal, she said in court documents.

She resigned when she was told her complaint was “unacceptable.” Longmuir and other employees’ “took a dislike to her” because of the incident. Sberbank alleged that Lokhova had simply taken part in a heated argument with the colleague and lost her temper.

She joined Legal & General Group Plc after first leaving the bank.

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