Royal Bank of Canada unfairly dismissed a former currencies trader who had called on the bank to tighten up what he called “box-ticking” compliance procedures, a London employment tribunal has ruled in a rare victory for a city whistleblower.
John Banerjee, the bank’s former head of emerging-markets currency trading in London, was fired in 2016, with the bank citing a long-running problem with his timekeeping, according to the judgment documents released on Wednesday.
But the judge in the case, which ran to early May, described the bank’s actions as “egregious” and said employers should take better care of whistleblowers “even if they find them somewhat enervating”.
The bank’s stated policy that employees should feel free to raise concerns represented “fine, but empty words”, the tribunal judgment stated. “Using his late arrival at work as a pretext, the bank sacked the claimant,” it added. “The main reason for his dismissal was his public interest disclosure.”
On Wednesday, the bank said it “strongly” disagreed with the tribunal’s decision and would appeal. “RBC takes its duties as an employer very seriously and encourages a robust compliance culture, which includes promoting the freedom for employees to speak up and blow the whistle. RBC is reviewing the judgment carefully to see whether there are any practical steps it should take to make improvements to any employment processes,” it said.
Mr Banerjee is seeking several million pounds in compensation for the loss of his career, in which he was paid in excess of £1m a year. He successfully argued that he was fired not for timekeeping or other issues, but as a result of having raised problems with the bank’s culture around compliance.
The former trader spent several months complaining about internal inconsistencies and other issues in the bank’s guidelines for traders, but after staff were encouraged to speak up on compliance concerns, he wrote to inform senior managers that staff were routinely completing documents attesting they were up to date with the rules suspiciously quickly. “Most everyone just cuts out the long (dull) read and presses ‘Agree’,” he wrote.
His own efforts to complete the relevant forms were hampered by broken links and incomplete information, he said — issues that no one else appeared to notice.
He called for “root and branch” change. In one exchange, a senior manager discussing his complaint described Mr Banerjee as “a blowhard”.
His legal victory is unusual; lawyers say only about 4 per cent of whistleblowers win employment cases. It is the first of its kind since the senior managers regime was introduced for banks, seeking to make top executives accountable for corporate failings.
In light of the poor handling of whistleblowing at rival bank Barclays, the case also suggests that the financial services industry is still struggling to deal with the issue.
The tribunal documents paint a picture of a strained working relationship between Mr Banerjee and his colleagues, with the former trader repeatedly appearing late for work — a source of irritation but one that did not result in a formal disciplinary procedure.
The judge described him as “dogged in the extreme” and said he sometimes “chose the wrong battles to fight”. His lateness did contribute to his dismissal, the judge said.
On Wednesday, Mr Banerjee said he was relieved by the outcome. “The bank has subjected me to a war of attrition,” he said. “It is wonderful to be vindicated by the court.”
Mr Banerjee did not retain solicitors in his case for fear of fees that he said would leave him “homeless”.
He was supported by Whistleblowers UK, a non-profit organisation whose CEO Georgina Halford-Hall said she hoped the case would encourage others in his position to come forward.