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A Dead Doctor, the Trauma of Sexual Abuse, and a Bank in Denial

A case before the U.K. Supreme Court could establish whether Barclays is responsible for sexual assaults alleged to have taken place decades ago—and set a precedent for today’s gig economy.

James and Anne, former Barclays employees.

James and Anne, former Barclays employees.

Photographer: Sophie Gerrard for Bloomberg Businessweek

It was a beautiful summer day in Newcastle, near England’s northeast coast, and James was practically skipping to a doctor’s appointment. He was small, tough, alone, and 16. He crossed a leafy street, spotted the address, and knocked. The woman who answered let him in and pointed to a flight of stairs. He climbed to the top and saw Gordon Bates.

The year was 1976, and James had been sent to the house by Barclays. He needed to pass a medical exam before he could start a job on the bottom rung at one of the bank’s many branches in and around Newcastle. The city, once an Industrial Revolution center of coal mining and shipbuilding, had long been in decline, and Barclays, one of the U.K.’s biggest banks, was a rare ticket to success, stability, and a pension. It liked hiring local teenagers as tellers and office assistants. All they needed were satisfactory grades, enough charm to get through an interview, and a visit to the doctor.