Ex-Sberbank Manager Tells Court Workplace Insults Common

A former OAO Sberbank manager whose workplace comments are at the center of a U.K. sex-bias claim testified he wasn’t motivated by gender when he referred to a female employee as a drug user and that workplace insults were common at the Moscow-based bank.

David Longmuir’s testimony in a London court yesterday was his first opportunity to offer a defense in a discrimination suit filed by Svetlana Lokhova, a former equity saleswoman at the lender’s London unit. Lokhova’s claim against him and the bank is the longest running and most complex bias case this year among a burgeoning number of hostile work environment lawsuits in the U.K. financial services industry.

Sexual-discrimination litigation, which can exceed the standard 70,000-pound ($108,000) cap on U.K. employment tribunal cases, is increasingly involving banks and their employees who make comments in e-mails or instant messages, said Jo Keddie, a lawyer at Winckworth Sherwood LLP in London.

“Unfortunately there are far too many instances of female traders and brokers in the banking sector being treated in a demeaning manner in situations where they are often outnumbered by male counterparts,” Keddie, an employment lawyer who has represented bankers, said in an e-mail.

Longmuir, who before leaving the bank last year was head of U.K. equity sales, worked as Lokhova’s supervisor. He told the tribunal yesterday that he sent e-mails to colleagues and clients containing false references to drug and alcohol use and described her as “mad Svetlana.”

“I regret saying these things,” said Longmuir, who left the bank last year. He alleged that workplace insults were common, and that she used vulgarities to describe him as well.

“I hope she regrets saying some of the things she said about me,” he told the tribunal.

Neil McLeod, a spokesman for Lokhova, declined to comment on Longmuir’s allegations. Sberbank spokesman Paul Marriott and Longmuir declined to comment after the hearing.

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Lokhova’s case is scheduled to last more than two months and take testimony from as many as 15 witnesses.

Lokhova, who rejoined Sberbank in 2011 after resigning the previous year, subsequently went on leave in January 2012 because of stress and never returned, according to documents from her lawsuit. The London office of the bank was formerly part of Troika Dialog, which was bought by state-owned Sberbank in January 2012.

Longmuir testified that he wasn’t targeting Lokhova because of her gender.

“We can see it was perhaps an office where we were rude about each other,” he testified.

Asked if the Lokhova matter had contributed to his departure from Sberbank, Longmuir said he needed a break for personal reasons.

“This case weighed on me,” he said. “It was one of the things I found unjust about” working in the financial industry.

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