London UOB Banker's Race Discrimination Claim Was `Mistaken'

(Bloomberg) -- A former banker at United Overseas Bank Ltd. lost a racial discrimination claim at a London employment tribunal, but did get a partial victory as the judge said the lender unfairly dismissed him.

Daniel Smith, who worked at Singapore’s third-largest bank for 23 years, said in a lawsuit that he was denied a new job because he isn’t Asian. The ruling caps his recovery at around 84,000 pounds ($110,000) because he wasn’t able to prove discrimination.

“We can understand” why Smith believed he’d been discriminated against, but he was “mistaken,” Judge Joanna Wade ruled. The bank gave a job to a rival candidate because she had better experience, not because she was Asian, Wade said.

Nonetheless, she said, the bank dismissed Smith unfairly, because it had a duty to look for suitable alternatives when his role was eliminated.

“Having picked our way through the murky factual situation we conclude that there was a chance” that Smith would’ve carried on working there, “had the procedure been fair,” the judge said, in a ruling that criticized part of the bank’s recruitment process.

‘Vindicated’

Smith said in an email that while he was “bitterly disappointed” at the way he was treated, “I feel vindicated and am glad that I can finally draw a line under the matter.”

The bank said it’s “pleased” with the court’s finding on discrimination and respects the unfair dismissal decision, even though Smith had rejected its alternative job offer, a spokeswoman said.

“UOB is committed to ensuring equal employment opportunities for all employees on the basis of merit,” she said.

‘UOB Fit’

During the February trial, witnesses testified that the bank had used the criterion “UOB fit” in its recruitment. Quek Chee Peng, the London branch’s operations manager, told the court the phrase didn’t mean a candidate had to be Asian, but instead that they’d understand the “south east Asian way of doing things,” citing hard work and the customer coming first as examples.

While that didn’t lead to Smith facing discrimination -- because he was deemed to fit in, having worked at the bank for a long time -- it could disadvantage new applicants, Wade said.

“The result of the criterion for a new Caucasian candidate who did not have Asian experience or experience in the bank would be that they would not get the job,” Wade said.

Smith started working for the bank in 1993, when he was 19. His post -- which was mostly in the bank’s sterling clearing function -- was eliminated in 2017.

“While the claim for racial discrimination was unsuccessful, the judge did acknowledge that my interpretation of the company’s comments about whether I was a ‘UOB fit’ was understandable,” Smith said.

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