Commerzbank Sued by Former Employee Alleging Race Discrimination
(Bloomberg) -- A former Commerzbank AG compliance officer sued the lender and four ex-colleagues for race discrimination, claiming he was taunted with racist tropes and made to feel like a criminal during an internal inquiry.
George Gyimah, who is Black, alleged he was subject to a pattern of discrimination and “a secret investigative approach” to the ensuing internal inquiry during his time at the German bank in 2019, according to his witness statement prepared for a London employment tribunal hearing.
He said a colleague, Bastian Buhlmann, twice used a racist stereotype about fried chicken, including using “the offer of chicken as a reward in a jovial manner,” and told colleagues that Gyimah was suffering from a mental illness.
A Commerzbank executive in London appointed to oversee the internal grievance process, said the chicken comments were down to a “cultural misunderstanding,” according to Gyimah’s witness statement. Gyimah said he received no reply from the bank’s human resources department after complaining about the mental illness comment.
“We have always maintained these claims are without merit,” a spokesperson for the bank said. “Commerzbank does not tolerate workplace discrimination of any sort.”
Buhlmann didn’t reply to an email or message on LinkedIn requesting comment. Simon Gorton, Commerzbank’s lawyer, said in tribunal proceedings that Buhlmann denied any references he made to Gyimah’s preferences for chicken were linked to his race. Gyimah declined to comment.
Gyimah said he was also interviewed about his complaints by a senior Commerzbank executive who suggested “absurd” explanations for the chicken comments, including “that there was a chicken shop visible from the office window” that may have prompted them.
Robert McMillan, Gyimah’s former boss, denied the allegations of bullying and discrimination in his witness statement. Gyimah, who also claims he wasn’t invited to important meetings and was unfairly criticized in appraisals, left the bank in June 2020 after accepting a job offer at another bank.
“I am not aware of ever having excluded George from a meeting to which it was appropriate to invite him,” McMillan said in his witness statement. “I wanted George to continue to develop his career like any other member of the team.”
Gyimah, who was given the role of a diversity champion at the bank, was “rude” and “stormed out” of a meeting when his then boss had expected to discuss diversity initiatives, McMillan said.
McMillan also didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment.
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