Chinese investment banker wins discrimination case

Chinese investment banker sacked for failing to flag £25m losses wins race discrimination claim after boss said Asian people are ‘reluctant’ to admit things are going wrong ‘because they don’t want to lose face’

  • Samuel Yang was executive director of Credit Agricole’s precious metals desk  
  • The trader was sacked after not flagging a deal lost the bank £25.8million 
  • An employment tribunal ruled Mr Yang was a victim of race discrimination 

Chinese investment banker Samuel Yang has won a discrimination case after his boss Tony Botting (pictured) said he couldn’t admit things were going wrong because ‘Asian culture’ meant he didn’t want ‘to lose face’

A Chinese trader has won a discrimination case after his boss said he couldn’t admit things were going wrong because ‘Asian culture’ meant he didn’t want ‘to lose face’.

Samuel Yang was executive director of investment bank Credit Agricole’s precious metals desk in London, where he would deal in gold, silver, platinum and palladium.

He was fired after he failed to flag more than £25.8million in losses after the Covid pandemic hit the markets in March 2020.

An employment tribunal hear the bank was suddenly exposed to ‘unprecedented’ levels of risk because of the virus, and working from home made his job harder.

He was sacked for failing to tell his bosses one of its precious metal trades ended up losing the bank the huge sum as soon as the trade went through.

But the tribunal ruled he was unfairly dismissed as the investigation and disciplinary hearings failed to properly interview other witnesses.

It also ruled Mr Yang was a victim of race discrimination.

His boss Tony Botting told a disciplinary hearing Asian people ‘can sometimes be reluctant to agree to something that has gone on’ because they don’t want to ‘lose face’.

Mr Yang is now set to receive compensation for unfair dismissal and race discrimination.

Samuel Yang was executive director of investment bank Credit Agricole’s precious metals desk in London (office pictured), where he would deal in gold, silver, platinum and palladium. He has won a discrimination case after his boss said he couldn’t admit things were going wrong because ‘Asian culture’ meant he didn’t want ‘to lose face’

The tribunal heard Mr Yang was highly experienced, with previous jobs at the Bank of China in Shanghai before he moved to the UK in 2006 and joined Credit Agricole in 2011.

He was eventually promoted to executive director of the bank’s precious metals trading desk.

He reported directly to Mr Botting and was involved in the ‘intense exercise’ of trading, using seven and a half screens to constantly monitor the movements of the market.

The Covid pandemic affected global financial markets, causing ‘significant instability’.

The gold market was rocked by the start of lockdowns because gold could no longer be transported to trading hubs and refineries were shut down.

In March 2020, concerns were being raised about the volatility of the precious metals markets and employees were constantly told to report any issues or ‘high risk’ incidents to management.

The tribunal heard that between March 23 and 27, 2020, the difference in gold prices which Mr Yang’s team were trading on, increased to ‘unprecedented levels’, exposing the bank’s trades to heightened risk.

Between March 23 and 25, Mr Yang worked from home, where his access to the data needed to assess the state of the gold market was reduced.

The tribunal heard he also had limited access to risk management tools and, in the early stages of the pandemic, the bank struggled with IT issues for people working from home.

But Mr Yang was aware of the exposed risk and believed the market would stabilise so did not report this to management, it was said.

On March 30, Mr Yang headed into the office where he was called into a meeting with Mr Botting, where his precious metals colleague Louis McCauley raised the issue of the heightened risk and potential for large losses for the first time officially.

At the time, the calculation of expected losses was somewhere in the region of around £19million to £20million.

The tribunal heard this was ‘substantially more than the monthly loss alert limit for the precious metals desk as a whole’, which was about £2.5million.

The next day Mr Yang was suspended pending an investigation into allegations of potential gross misconduct for not reporting the losses.

The tribunal heard ‘management was astounded that Sam Yang had not reported such issue’.

The gold market was rocked by the start of lockdowns because gold could no longer be transported to trading hubs and refineries were shut down

An investigation was held in which Mr Yang admitted ‘in hindsight, he should have sent an email to highlight the [losses] on 26th or 27th of March’.

On 21 April 2020, there was a meeting of the bank’s Risk Committee in which the total loss on the precious metals desk was confirmed as approximately £25,800,000.

The tribunal noted: ‘It is important to stress that the loss incurred by the bank was in no way caused by [Mr Yang].

‘[He] was not disciplined for causing any loss. He was disciplined for failing to identify, and escalate the loss to the Bank.’

The tribunal heard Mr Yang’s belief was that ‘the panic was short-term’ and he believed ‘things would settle down’.

During the disciplinary process, Mr Botting was interviewed on 14 May 2020.

During the interview, Mr Botting said: ‘I worked in Asia for 5.5 years, so I’m used to working with Asian people.

‘The cultural aspect is something you need to be aware of in terms of loss of face. They can sometimes be reluctant to agree to something that has gone on.

‘I have lost confidence in him as a manager and in him communicating the risk… the crux of matter is that there wasn’t a communication. He didn’t view it as risk. 

‘That is the biggest concern. When after Louis McCauley had quite rightly highlighted the risk and it was escalated, Samuel Yang was still in denial. 

‘This has destroyed my faith in him as a manager.’

In July 2020, Mr Yang was sacked with immediate effect after he was found to have been guilty of gross misconduct.

He appealed, arguing he was ‘seen as an easy target’, adding: ‘My demeanour is that I am a quiet and hardworking manager who presents himself with modesty and humility (as many Chinese people do).’

Eric De Lambilly, Global Head of the Transversal Function Group, heard the appeal but found Mr Yang’s race had nothing to do with his sacking.

He did concede: ‘Tony’s comment on May 14, 2020, regarding Asian people is regrettable and wrong. 

If he were still with the Bank I would be recommending that he attend appropriate training and coaching to ensure that that this concern was addressed appropriately.’

However, the employment tribunal found the comment was racial discrimination. It concluded: ‘Mr Botting’s remark amounted to negative stereotyping.

‘The tribunal is satisfied that a white Caucasian employee would not have been subjected to the same negative stereotyping.’

The tribunal also ruled the dismissal was procedurally unfair, as key witnesses were not interviewed and the disciplinary process didn’t consider the efforts Mr Yang and his team had gone to during the ‘unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic’ to minimise losses.

Compensation will be decided at a future hearing.

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