HSBC gay banker back at tribunal

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An employment tribunal in Stratford, east London, was told yesterday that homophobia is still a problem in the UK financial services industry.

Peter Lewis, a former head of equity at HSBC bank, won a partial victory last year when a tribunal ruled that the bank had discriminated against him on four grounds because of his sexual orientation.

However, he was unable to prove discrimination in relation to 12 other grounds, including his dismissal from the bank in 2004 for gross misconduct.

After a series of appeals, the original tribunal in 2006 was judged to have gone beyond what it had been asked to rule on.

A different tribunal panel is expected to take two weeks to consider his claims.

Mr Lewis told the tribunal on the first day of its deliberations that attitudes towards equal opportunities in the banking sector “lagged [behind] those of other industries.”

Mr Lewis’ claims of discrimination in relation to his dismissal generated acres of headlines, and not just because it was the first major case brought under 2003 laws outlawing discrimination at work on the grounds of sexual orientation to come before a tribunal.

Mr Lewis was sacked by the banking giant in February 2005 for “gross personal misconduct.”

The incident in question related to an alleged encounter between Mr Lewis and another male employee of the bank, which ultimately resulted in a complaint of sexual harassment.

The tribunal heard that HSBC sacked Mr Lewis after he was accused of masturbating in front of a male employee in the work gym shower.

In November, 2004, the former equity head of equity trading, says he was approached and harassed by a man who demanded to know his name at his work’s health club.

He said: “As a gay man, I am aware that my sexuality can provoke hostile reactions from people, I just wanted him to go away. I therefore gave him a name which was not mine and which I made up on the spot.”

He chose not to report the confrontation, but five days later was summoned to a meeting where he was told a man had accused him of ogling and masturbating in front of him.

“The implication was that I had been ‘coming on’ to someone in the changing rooms,” he said.

Mr Lewis told the 2006 tribunal his sexuality had provoked a “considerable amount of interest and comment” in the City, including abusive phone calls to his home and office.

He claims some workers felt it was “inappropriate that someone occupying such a senior position should be gay.”

He said: “Others would make homophobic comments either directly to me or, more usually, behind my back to my manager or colleagues.

“The situation has improved but discrimination and homophobia in the financial services industry has not been eliminated.”

HSBC has consistently denied it discriminated against Mr Lewis on grounds of sexuality.

Neither the bank nor Mr Lewis commented about the latest tribunal proceedings.