Ex-Citigroup Trader Was ‘Cannon Fodder’ on Maternity Leave

  • McWilliams claims traders were encouraged to share information
  • Ex-trader pursues tribunal case in London after firing

A former Citigroup Inc. foreign-exchange trader who was suspended while on maternity leave said she was "easy cannon fodder" for the bank as it tried to appease regulators amid a probe into market manipulation.

Carly McWilliams told an employment tribunal in London Thursday that the bank enforced impossible standards of perfection to retrospectively condemn practices it had encouraged in the past, such as sharing confidential client orders with traders at other firms. Executives from Citigroup testified that traders were encouraged to build relationships with rivals, but were forbidden from sharing information relating to orders. She worked on the spot trading desk for 14 years.

"My dismissal is overwhelmingly harsh and inappropriate, given that the alleged offenses were nothing other than normal practices of my everyday job at the time, that were encouraged, condoned, required and indeed rewarded by management," McWilliams said in her witness statement. "I have been singled out, easy cannon fodder whilst off on maternity leave."

McWilliams is one of a spate of traders -- including four from Citigroup -- who were fired during the benchmark-rigging probes to sue their former employers in recent months. Their cases have had mixed results, as judges have criticized banks for not following the correct disciplinary procedures, while deciding against rewarding substantial damages to the claimants. Perry Stimpson, one former Citigroup trader, won his case in November, though he is yet to be awarded damages.

Confidential Relationships

"It was perfectly obvious that the relationship between the bank and its clients was confidential, and you understood that," Citigroup’s lawyer Thomas Linden said while questioning McWilliams. "You understood that it was fundamental to the bank and its clients that their affairs would be kept confidential."

"Broadly, yes," McWilliams answered.

McWilliams was suspended in March 2014 and fired on Nov. 20, eight days after Citigroup was fined 225 million pounds ($322 million) for its part in the foreign-exchange scandal. She said she earned total compensation of about 300,000 pounds a year.

Traders shared information with rivals at other banks to protect their employers from predatory trading by hedge funds and even central banks, “who operate in a completely unprofessional and vicious manner,” according to her testimony.

‘Inevitable Blow’

"I cannot emphasize enough how stressful this was, waiting day-in, day-out for the inevitable blow," she said in her witness statement. "My maternity leave was completely ruined, I was kept isolated and forced to lie to friends and family about why I wasn’t back at work."

Since her firing headhunters have said that "there was no way any bank, large or small, would even contemplate hiring me with gross misconduct on my record," McWilliams said.

The bank said McWilliams was fired after an internal investigation found she was among employees to have engaged in misconduct.

"Individual accountability continues to be important to Citi and for that reason we are defending Ms. McWilliams case in the tribunal. We expect our employees to adhere to the highest ethical standards,” a bank spokesman said.

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