JPMorgan Banker Fired for Expense Errors Sues for Discrimination

Zainab Master, a junior banker at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in London, worked 785 hours of weekday overtime in a year before she was fired.

The bank’s policies allowed for overtime meals and taxis. But it was the expenses that the young analyst in the asset management unit was to fall foul of.

Master was dismissed in early 2019 following what the bank called “really stupid errors” over her claims. She has now sued for discrimination alleging she struggled with a “hostile environment” from managers stemming from her dyslexia.

“When I was subjected to bullying and abusive comments and micromanagement tactics my ability to cope was simply shattered and there was no chance of my being able to work creatively,” Master said in a legal filing for a London employment tribunal hearing this week.

Working overtime was “completely normalized,” Master said. “No one ever left the office on time,” she said.

London’s employment courts are increasingly a venue for junior financial services workers saying they were treated with contempt and faced discrimination on account of their neuro-diverse conditions. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. settled a suit last year with a former analyst who alleged that the bank discriminated against him because of his attention-deficit condition. The bank had previously accused him of being a poor performer.

JPMorgan and Mike Cain, a lawyer for Master, declined to comment.

The bank said that Master’s line managers weren’t aware of her dyslexia until they’d already moved to dismiss her. Rather, she was fired for her “really stupid errors” by delaying making expense claims and then submitting inaccurate ones or those outside the bank’s policy, said Andrew Burns, a lawyer for the bank. She claimed 2,000 pounds ($2,800) over six months, mainly on overtime meals and taxis.

The expense claims included a 15 pound supermarket shop for bread, cheese, yogurt, orange juice, cereal and other snacks after working late one evening -- items that managers thought looked a little too much like breakfast. Master said she doesn’t eat breakfast.

Overwhelmed

Master said that at times, she’d stop taking in information when she felt stressed and frustrated, and that pressure from managers overwhelmed her coping strategies.

“The only way I can describe it is that I feel like I get completely disoriented, confused, blank, without focus at times,” she said.

JPMorgan’s Office for Disability Inclusion was told in 2018 about her dyslexia but her line managers failed to make reasonable adjustments that would have made her work easier, Master said. Her dyslexia was exacerbated by distractions and would have been helped if she was allowed to use headphones, screen filters and specialist software, she said.

Managers within the client reporting team, under pressure over delays and complaints from clients, would launch into “tirades.” She said she was repeatedly called ‘special.’

JPMorgan said her managers were constructive and supportive.

“It’s something entirely untrue and something you’ve made up for this tribunal?” Burns said to Master during cross examination this week.

The bank’s lawyer said there was “nothing derogatory” about the term “special.” It couldn’t be interpreted as special needs.”

“I think we all know what the term ‘special’ means,” she said in response.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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