Trader Suing Tullett for Discrimination Is in Limbo
(Bloomberg) -- For Opeyemi Olayanju, coming to work one day in October to find his computer cables unplugged was the last straw.
The way he saw it, the incident was yet another attempt at sabotaging his budding career at the London office of Tullett Prebon, the brokerage unit of energy and commodities trading firm TP ICAP Plc. Coming after what the Black British trader says was bullying and harassment tinged with racism, he quit.
“I was subjected to work in a toxic environment filled with racism, discrimination,” Olayanju said in an open letter on his LinkedIn page that largely tracks his March legal filing in the U.K.
Now in Dubai, blocked from starting a new job by an injunction from Tullett, Olayanju tells a tale of rampant discrimination faced by him and other brokers. His case is among at least four employment-tribunal lawsuits alleging racist behavior TP ICAP has dealt with in the last 16 months and comes as the killing of George Floyd by police officers in the U.S. shines a light globally on racial discrimination in all walks of life, including in the workplace.
Olayanju’s former manager, who was suspended and left the firm after he allegedly unplugged the computer, declined to comment. In a statement, Tullett denied allegations of racial discrimination, saying “TP ICAP is committed to promoting equality and diversity as part of our continuous efforts to build a positive, inclusive and meritocratic culture.” It said Olayanju’s claim is aimed at fighting the preliminary injunction it obtained in Dubai that blocks him from joining a rival.
Olayanju’s case comes as British regulators step up efforts to hold financial firms and managers accountable for office culture. Last week, tensions surrounding a Black trader’s attempt to start a conversation about race at the London office of Citic Securities Co.’s CLSA unit, China’s biggest brokerage, showed the challenges firms face with diversity and inclusion.
In the Tullett case, Olayanju and other former employees paint a picture in legal filings and in interviews of a trading floor where racial slurs were hurled with impunity. The firm last year lost a racial harassment case, paying out almost 500,000 pounds ($626,000), one of the biggest in the U.K.
In his legal filing in March, Olayanju points to Tullett’s own conclusion that he’d suffered from misconduct on the desk, citing a formal response to his complaint in February from Graham Francis, a senior manager at the firm.
“I uphold your allegation that you have been subject to inappropriate and offensive conduct,” Francis says. Still, while Olayanju “may have been subject to derogatory comments on the desk,” the manager said in his formal response that he’d found no evidence that it was related to his race.
Olayanju, a 26-year-old graduate of Bath University, was hired by Tullett straight out of school in 2016. As part of the company’s effort to lure promising young candidates, Olayanju says he was shown a presentation with the company saying it wanted to bring the broking world into the 21st century. The reality was very different, he said in an interview with Bloomberg that took place four months after he filed his case with the employment tribunal.
“I’m not sure they want to change,” he said.
Six months after joining the firm, Olayanju moved to the desk’s Africa unit, tasked with helping build up its currencies trading business from scratch. That’s when things started turning sour.
Olayanju said he was consistently isolated, never given any credit for pulling in clients and made to feel like he was a burden. He said that other colleagues were allocated areas that generated higher revenue at his expense. “I had to work at least twice as hard to achieve the revenues I did,” he said in the interview.
He said in the filing that he was aware that he and a Black British colleague were referred to as “the Africans,” and that he was called “n-Ope” or “n-Opy.”
“I don’t see why they would use the letter ‘N’,” Olayanju, who goes by Ope, said. In his LinkedIn open letter, he says, “My name is Ope, not Dope nor is it Nope.”
The desk head, who was suspended at the same time as Olayanju’s manager, and later left the firm, said he was not involved and denied any accusations of racism and bullying against him. Tullett said in its statement that it didn’t comment on current or past employees.
Olayanju says in his March filing that while he complained both to his managers and human resources about the atmosphere on the desk, Tullett took little notice. Until the computer incident, that is.
He came to work on that October day to find his monitor dark and the wires to his computer out of their socket. He reported the incident to the compliance team, suggesting they review the CCTV feed.
Olayanju hasn’t seen the video. But in his March filing, he cited the formal response by Francis, the Tullett senior manager, who says that the incident “was inappropriate conduct,” which appears to have been caused by Olayanju’s manager “being intoxicated.”
Three computers had been unplugged. One was Olayanju’s. The others belonged to another Black British colleague and a Russian broker. Olayanju says in his filing that he believed the incident to be “racially targeted because the three targeted individuals were ethnic minorities, who did not even happen to sit near each other.”
Olayanju is convinced the firm wouldn’t have acted had the evidence not been so clear and caught on film.
“I strongly believe that they wouldn’t have made any moves if it was not so obvious,” he said in the interview.
The incident occurred at around the same time that Tullett was settling a London lawsuit with two other former brokers on the emerging markets team.
Anton Morozov and Yevgeni Rudman had been sued by the broker in a bid to stop them moving to a rival. Tullett refused to accept their resignations saying the two emailed confidential information to their personal accounts before quitting. But both alleged that they had been forced to resign on account of the bullying and discriminatory behavior of the desk head.
The environment on the emerging markets desk was “intolerable,” the two said in a public filing. The conduct amounted to “direct race discrimination.”
Morozov and Rudman declined to comment, citing the terms of their settlement. They were released from their injunctions in February, according to a separate filing. Tullett had initially insisted that Morozov wait until October 2020 and Rudman until April before competing with their former firm.
In its initial response to Morozov’s and Rudman’s claims two months before the agreement, Tullett said as far as it was aware, there was no conduct that would have damaged “the relationship of trust and confidence” at the firm.
Rudman and Morozov now work at GMG Brokers, a Dubai-based outfit that Olayanju is planning to join. After handing in his notice, Olayanju moved to the United Arab Emirates to start working at GMG only to be hit with a similar injunction filed by Tullett that bars him from starting work until the outcome of a trial, currently slated for September.
Down in Dubai
He’s now stuck in Dubai, unable to work and separated because of pandemic-related travel restrictions from his fiancee, who is in Tunisia.
“He’s in Dubai with no job; He faces court and we don’t know what will happen,” said Marco Saviozzi, the CEO of GMG.
In granting the temporary injunction, the Dubai judge, Ali Al Madhani, said that while Olayanju’s discrimination allegations were grave, “they were as yet largely unsubstantiated.” He said Tullett executives had suspicions Olayanju planned to join GMG while he was still with their firm. Olayanju says that while he was not in negotiations to change jobs, it was no secret within the firm that he was unhappy at Tullett.
The firm has faced other charges of racist behavior at its London operations. Last year, Kishore Kansal, a former executive who helped lead the private equity group at the firm, won one of the largest U.K. employment tribunal payouts after complaining about racial harassment in the early part of the decade.
Meanwhile in Dubai, Olayanju is in limbo. He’s preparing for the upcoming legal suit over the injunction. It’s a case, he says, he was forced to fight.
“I didn’t want to come across like I was rocking the boat, but there is a line,” he said.
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