Sberbank Said to Face Potential Record Damage Claim

A former OAO Sberbank employee who won an employment-tribunal ruling against Russia’s largest bank estimated during the litigation that her damages could be about 30 million pounds ($48 million), according to people familiar with the case.

The amount that Svetlana Lokhova, who worked as an equity saleswoman in Sberbank’s London unit, had calculated in a schedule of damages filed with the tribunal was based in part on an estimate of potential future losses if she can’t work again, one of the people said, asking not to be identified.

A U.K. employment tribunal ruled last week that Lokhova was subjected to sex discrimination, victimization and sexual harassment after male colleagues sent messages referring to her as “Ms. Cokehead” and “mad Svetlana.”

The panel also ruled in favor of her whistleblowing claim. The derogatory comments about Lokhova were numerous, occurred over a “period of many months,” and were made to her colleagues within Sberbank and to clients, according to the ruling, which concluded that allegations about drug use “had no basis in fact as the claimant is not a drug user.”

Tribunal Ruling

In a written comment about the case and the tribunal’s ruling, Lokhova’s law firm said her health had suffered as a result of her experience.

“Ms. Lokhova feels fully vindicated by the Employment Tribunal’s decision to find in her favour in respect of all of the discrimination and whistleblowing claims she pursued against Sberbank,” Lewis Silkin LLP said in an e-mailed statement. “This matter has had a significant adverse effect on her health and career and the decision to pursue her claims against Sberbank and some of its senior employees was extremely brave when one considers the nature of the treatment she had been subjected to and the extent of the opposition she faced. Ms. Lokhova trusts that Sberbank will give all due consideration to what the Tribunal has found in respect of the serious unlawful treatment of her by Sberbank and its employees.”

Three-Judge Panel

The three-judge panel will decide on damages if Lokhova and Sberbank decline to negotiate a settlement. Lokhova declined to comment through a spokesman.

Damage awards in cases involving sexual discrimination can exceed the standard 70,000-pound cap on U.K. employment tribunal cases. A settlement of 30 million pounds would be the largest ever awarded in a sexual discrimination case in the U.K., according to employment lawyer Jo Keddie, who isn’t involved in Lokhova’s legal proceeding.

“It could be an inflated, best-case scenario figure, but it’s still likely she will get a substantial sum,” Keddie said by phone.

The largest amount ever awarded in a U.K. discrimination lawsuit is just under 4.5 million pounds, according to Tim Johnson, an employment lawyer in London.

Lokhova, 33, quit Troika Dialog, the Russian brokerage that Sberbank later acquired, in February 2010, after accusing a colleague of “improper trading activity,” the tribunal said in its ruling. She joined Sberbank’s U.K. division in 2011 with a salary of 120,000 pounds a year and a guaranteed bonus that December of $300,000, according to the decision.

‘Often Personal’

David Longmuir, a former Sberbank manager, sent e-mails and made remarks to Lokhova’s colleagues that were “offensive and derogatory, and often personal in nature,” the judges said, finding that he was personally liable for gender-related harassment. She went on leave in January 2012, citing the stress of working in a hostile environment on an all-male sales desk, and never returned. Longmuir has since resigned from the bank.

Longmuir “set about his campaign in a whole hearted and vigorous manner, using any opportunity to undermine and criticize the Claimant in the most unpleasant manner,” according to the tribunal’s ruling. “The remarks were protracted and sustained over a period of many months, and they were numerous. They were made not just only to the Claimant’s peers and colleagues but also externally to clients, which could have been detrimental to the Claimant’s career” at Sberbank.

The tribunal also faulted Longmuir’s supervisor, Paolo Zaniboni, who headed the London office at the time. Zaniboni “failed to manage properly the situation,” the judges wrote, finding him liable for Lokhova’s victimization.

Paul Marriott, a spokesman for Sberbank in London, declined to comment.

(Corrects characterization of Lokhova in headline. Corrects timing and posture of plaintiff’s damages estimate in first and second paragraphs; adds findings from the employment tribunal’s judgment in the third, fourth and 12th through 14th paragraphs; corrects spelling of Lokhova in the seventh paragraph; and expands statement from law firm in fifth and sixth paragraphs of article originally published Nov. 6.)
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