Two male employees in the New York office of HSBC, the UK-based banking behemoth, have filed separate federal lawsuits accusing their employer of wrongful retaliation because they expressed concerns about the existence of sexual harassment within the organization.
Michael Picarella, a senior vice president with HSBC, says that he and colleague James Rist notified top officials at the bank when they learned that a supervisor had pressured a female employee to sleep with one of the senior executives at the bank. Shortly after disclosing their concerns, Picarella and Rist were both demoted. Though Picarella is still an employee, Rist has left the bank.
Picarella also says the company has engaged in other retaliatory conduct, including refusing to pay him a bonus for his work in 2014. Picarella told the court in his complaint that he had received a bonus every year he had worked for the bank. He also alleged that he had been denied access to his office, as well as the bank’s systems, and was told that these actions were taken because he had wrongfully disclosed confidential information, an allegation he says HSBC has no factual basis to support. Picarella says that HSBC’s actions have “effectively destroyed …a once-promising career in the financial services industry.”
In his complaint, Rist says that his annual compensation was dramatically reduced and that HSBC required that he report to a colleague who had previously been his subordinate. He alleged that the bank’s actions were part of an intentional effort to “cover up a culture of gender discrimination and sexual harassment.”
Picarella and Rist both allege that the bank’s head of business development for the Americas, Eileen Hedges, regularly harassed the unnamed female employee, telling her that she needed to wear more sexually suggestive clothing, and pressuring her to sleep with male executives and customers. According to Rist, Hedges pulled the female colleague aside at a holiday party, told her to “dump” her boyfriend, and to “show more skin” at work. Hedges then tried to pull the woman’s blouse down.
Hedges has since been terminated by HSBC.
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