UBS Plans Harassment Review After Allegation of London Rape

(Bloomberg) -- UBS Group AG said it’s planning to review how the bank handles cases of harassment after an alleged incident, which involved a young London-based trainee accusing a more senior employee of rape, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

The alleged perpetrator resigned from the investment bank in March, five months after he was suspended, the two people said, asking not to be identified because the details of the incident are private. UBS had not started a formal disciplinary procedure into the individual’s behavior by the time he left the Swiss lender, the people said.

The alleged incident took place at his private residence in the fall of 2017 and the victim didn’t file formal charges with the police, the people said.

"This matter is deeply upsetting, and while we cannot discuss it publicly due to employee confidentiality, our first priority is always to support our people and provide a safe environment to report any misconduct," UBS said in a response to a query from Bloomberg News. "Following significant cases, we conduct a review and if there are opportunities to strengthen our procedures we do so."

The bank didn’t elaborate on the specifics of the review it plans to undertake.

#MeToo Pressure

The UBS move is the latest example of how companies are facing pressure to discipline individuals who have abused their position to obtain sexual favors or committed acts of violence and bullying. Public interest in sexual harassment has mushroomed since reports of alleged assaults by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein emerged last year. Since then, a number of high-profile individuals have been accused of misconduct across a range of industries, giving birth to the global #MeToo movement.

The Swiss lender didn’t pursue a disciplinary procedure to assess the claim, the people said. Its investigation into the alleged misconduct and inappropriate behavior took time and hadn’t been completed by the time the male employee left, one person said. The woman also left UBS this year, the people said.

“An investigation is purely a fact-finding exercise with no commitment to take any particular action whereas a disciplinary process is something that is much more directed at an employee and tends to imply that there are at least some grounds to suspect that the employee has done something improper," said Richard Pike, litigation partner at Constantine Cannon LLP in London. "A disciplinary process is certainly more serious than an investigation in terms of action against an individual.”

Disciplinary action should typically include an initial letter to the subject, a hearing, and a decision on the outcome, which can range from no consequences to dismissal, according to U.K. employment rules.

Regulatory Scrutiny

Companies can also choose to report cases deemed relevant to an individual’s conduct to the market regulator at any time. The Financial Conduct Authority, which polices financial-services firms and their employees, declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority.

During its review of the alleged rape, UBS sought private mobile-phone messages between the alleged victim and her colleagues, the people said.

Andrea Orcel, who runs UBS’s investment bank, was informed about the incident only recently, the people said. He didn’t return a message seeking comment.

“Unfortunately the number of sexual-harassment cases, particularly for young women, do appear to be increasing,” said Jo Keddie, partner and head of employment at Winckworth Sherwood LLP in London. “It’s a serious issue in the financial sector.”

Earlier this year, Credit Suisse Group AG said it was reviewing how it handled an allegation eight years previously that a male employee, who was still employed by the bank, assaulted a female subordinate, an incident that was probed twice by London police and resulted in no criminal charges or disciplinary action by the bank.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. fired a salesman last month after he was arrested twice in just over a year and charged both times with attacking a woman. This year, Morgan Stanley said it fired a financial adviser in Oregon following a report that four women had accused him of abuse over 15 years.

The U.K. financial-services watchdog has also vowed to come down harder on firms to improve the culture in the industry, with Megan Butler, who helps oversee supervision at the FCA, indicating it will hold top managers accountable.

“We do not believe that a culture that tolerates sexual harassment and other forms of behavioral misconduct will encourage a ‘safe to speak up’ environment, an environment where the best business decisions get taken and where the best risk decisions get taken,” Butler said at a U.K. Women & Equalities Committee hearing in May.

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