BNP Paribas Hong Kong staff left shaken by details of 2012 sexual misconduct case
Workers at the bank said to be shocked, upset and angry that stronger action at the time had not been taken against alleged perpetrator
The Hong Kong office of BNP Paribas has become the latest corporate entity to be snared by a claim of sexual harassment, as more victims step forward to accuse their tormentors of inappropriate workplace behaviour in the aftermath of the improprieties that have rocked corporate America from Hollywood to Silicon Valley.
A junior staffer, employed under a government sponsored placement scheme and on secondment in Hong Kong from France, was harassed within weeks of her transfer in 2012 by a senior colleague in the French investment bank when she was 24-years-old, according to a Monday report in the Libération newspaper, citing an interview that identified her by her pseudonym Carole.
The senior banker, identified only by the newspaper as Aurélien G., had asked Carole to perform an intimate sex act on him, and later, when rubbing her leg with a pen, had said, “What? It is my pen, not an erection.”
A few weeks later, the banker had come into Carole’s office and said: “Open your eyes wide, and you will see a real consultant in action,” adding she should not “hesitate to masturbate while I am speaking – go on, touch yourself,” the newspaper reported, citing the trainee.
Carole reported the matter to BNP Paribas’ human resources officers, who said they would resolve the matter internally, the newspaper reported. She continued to work at the bank, returning to Paris soon after the Hong Kong harassment incidents, the newspaper said. She has since left the bank, according to the report.
The perpetrator was reprimanded, paid a fine and had his annual bonus withdrawn, but remains employed by BNP, and is still rumoured to be working elsewhere in Asia, according to a statement by Carole’s lawyer, cited by Liberation.
The claims in the French newspaper could not be independently verified.
“We cannot comment on this issue because of our obligation to maintain confidentiality with regards to our employees,” a BNP Paribas spokeswoman in Paris said in an emailed response to queries by the South China Morning Post.
Still, the bank’s Asia-Pacific chief executive Eric Raynaud responded, saying in an internal memo to BNP Paribas staff after the Libération’s October 29 report that the company had followed a formal process that had “resulted in sanctions, which, in view of the detailed circumstances of the case, were thought to be proportionate at the time.”
“Five years on … we have raised our expectations and have a complete zero-tolerance policy to contribute to the eradication of such cases,” Raynaud said in the memo seen by the Post. “Today, the level of sanctions for such behaviours would be higher.”
“What is striking is that at no point did BNP Paribas appear to think that it was appropriate that sexual harassment, including actions that could be treated as sexual assault, could be seen as cause for dismissal, particularly when the person involved is at the top of the hierarchy,” said Charles Morel, a Paris lawyer representing Carole, in a statement quoted by Libération.