Ex-Natixis Banker Seeks $11 Million to ‘Avenge’ Shattered Career
(Bloomberg) -- André M. Romain is seeking 10 million euros ($11 million) from Natixis SA for what he says is a finance-industry career ruined by the French bank’s management.
The claim is one of several complaints and lawsuits lodged by the 45-year-old former employee of Natixis’s U.S. unit alleging mismanagement and misconduct by the bank. The damages he’s asking for at the Paris employment tribunal emerged as part of a parallel access-to-documents case he had filed, where French judges ruled against his request as they questioned his motives.
Romain’s request “isn’t aimed at gathering and preserving evidence to press a lawsuit against Natixis management but to obtain documents he wouldn’t normally have access to in order to avenge himself,” the Paris court of appeals said.
While the decision released last week is a win for Natixis, it turns the spotlight on a multifaceted dispute that’s become a headache for the lender. From Romain’s upcoming labor-law battle to his allegations about insider trading by a bank executive and a criminal complaint questioning a controversial 2.4 million-euro severance paid to former Chief Executive Officer Francois Riahi, the bank is being bogged down by the complaints.
Read more: Natixis Ex-Employee Asks Prosecutors to Look at CEO Payment (1)
Natixis said in an email it won’t comment on the latest ruling, noting that the proceedings initiated by Romain at the employment tribunal and commercial court have failed so far.
Still, some of Romain’s grievances seem to have had an impact. Earlier this year, Natixis said it found an error in the calculation of Riahi’s payout and was stepping up attempts to recoup it after the former CEO refused to return the money.
In the access-to-documents case, Romain had sought to use the closest thing in France to U.S.-style discovery. He said he wanted to gather evidence before lodging a liability lawsuit over accusations Natixis’s management was responsible for mistakes that led to fines of more than 100 million euros from French antitrust and stock-market regulators.
“Natixis and BPCE have long suffered from governance issues and are plagued with a culture of misconduct,” Romain said in an email. “Unfortunately, the Paris court of appeal has refused to give me access to the documents that would have allowed me to sue the management of the bank and to finally hold them accountable.”
The relationship between Romain and Natixis soured about three years ago, shortly before his expat-gig at Natixis North America LLC was terminated in early 2019 and he was brought back in France.
Months later, Romain left the bank via a French procedure known as “prise d’acte,” which is used by white-collar workers to complain that their employer’s behavior is so egregious they simply can’t stay. In effect, this allows employees to quit while blaming their bosses for their departure and subsequently collect payouts in court.
While the merits of Romain’s 10 million-euro labor-law claim haven’t yet been heard out, details of his allegations are included in court filings.
Romain says he wanted to gather evidence to prove the ending of his contract with Natixis North America was linked to the “undue risks” the bank’s management took, leading to a loss of nearly $300 million.
He further claims Natixis sidelined him after he made a report to France’s stock-market regulator. Then-Chief Risk Officer Pierre Debray moved into the spotlight two years ago when Bloomberg News reported that he sold stock the month before the bank disclosed the $300 million loss on trades in Korea.
The timing of the stock sale led to internal scrutiny, but the bank said at the time it found no wrongdoing. The regulator, the Autorité des Marchés Financiers, declined to comment on the matter. Debray didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Romain and Natixis appear to agree on the origin of their dispute -- but not on who’s at fault. In court filings, the bank says Romain’s U.S. role was ended after he started accusing the bank’s chief risk officer.
“The Natixis lawyers do not deny this fact, although they claim that firing me after 17 years of service did not constitute retaliation for looking into the CRO’s insider trading,” Romain said in his email.
The divergence of views will likely be at the heart of the employment tribunal hearing in January on the substance of Romain’s allegations.
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