Fund Manager Says It Was Naive to Text Room Number to Colleague

(Bloomberg) -- A senior fund manager accused of sexual harassment said it may have been “irresponsible and naïve” to send his hotel room number to a female colleague with a text saying “come )))” after a night out at a Madrid club. But it wasn’t an invite, he said.

Frederic Michel-Verdier, 50, an executive director at IFM Investors, denied that he made any sexual advances toward Nathalie Abildgaard, 27, when they were out celebrating a deal. He has been giving evidence Tuesday in an employment tribunal in London, after Abildgaard sued her former employer for constructive unfair dismissal.

Abildgaard said that Michel-Verdier, with whom she worked on a number of projects, sent her a series of WhatsApp messages including the one with hotel room and the smiley emojis. He testified that she had asked for his room number to inform the reception desk at the hotel who would be paying for her room at checkout.

The executive director said “it was irresponsible and naïve to have allowed myself as a senior employee at IFM to be put in the position where my actions could be easily twisted and misrepresented.”

He said it is “inconceivable that Nathalie genuinely misinterpreted my message either then or now" as an invitation to visit his room.

The alleged harassment took place last March when Abildgaard and Michel-Verdier joined a small group that also included external bankers and lawyers working on the transaction at the Bling Bling nightclub in Madrid.

That evening, Abildgaard says that the manager told her: “I am so much older than you. You are young. I can teach you a lot about sex.”

The case comes at a time when sexual discrimination in the workplace is under greater scrutiny in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Faced with an investigation by IFM, Michel-Verdier said he told managers to review "its internal procedures and policies as well as training in order to guard against senior employees being open targets."

Abildgaard, who didn’t directly report to Michel-Verdier, said that she felt degraded by his unsolicited advances and later suffered panic attacks when Michel-Verdier spoke with her back in London.

Following IFM’s investigation, Michel-Verdier’s bonus was cut and he was banned from drinking at work events for 12 months.

The manager said he doesn’t intend to drink alcohol at work activities in the future.

"While I am not a person who attaches much importance to hierarchy, I now believe that it is perhaps better as a senior employee that I always maintain a professional distance with more junior employees and do not drink and socialize with them," he said.

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