By Iain Withers
LONDON – The London office of one of Canada’s top banks Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) has been accused of operating a hostile and degrading environment for women, according to a discrimination claim by a former executive at the firm.
Zhuofang Wei, who worked as an executive director at CIBC for nearly two years between 2018 and 2020, is suing CIBC for 800,000 pounds ($1 million) for lost earnings and damages, alleging she was subjected to sexual and racial discrimination by managers.
Wei said she was dismissed by CIBC in March 2020 after she objected to taking on a new role without an increase in pay.
CIBC denied all Wei’s allegations of discrimination and said her role was made redundant after her responsibilities significantly decreased, according to a defence document supplied by the bank to Reuters.
“CIBC is committed to a respectful and equitable workplace and takes any concerns raised by a team member seriously,” a spokesperson for CIBC said. “Whenever any issue is raised through our confidential hotline or any other avenue of escalation, we investigate thoroughly and take action as appropriate.
“As this matter is now before the courts, we are unable to comment further at this time.”
Wei’s claim was heard by an employment tribunal in London this month, with a judgment expected within weeks.
Sexual discrimination in the workplace is under greater scrutiny in the wake of the #MeToo movement with allegations of misconduct across myriad fields including global entertainment, business, religion and sports.
Among the claims, Wei alleges CIBC’s London office kept an innuendo quote book that staff were encouraged to contribute to and vote on at the team’s Christmas party, which included phrases like “I am going to hold you down and pop one in” and “she’s up for a touch”.
China-born Wei was also subjected to discrimination directly on multiple occasions, she alleges, including twice being asked by one of the bank’s senior executives to babysit his children. Wei and at least three female colleagues were also subjected to sexual comments about their attire or appearance, she alleges.
In its defence document, CIBC denied all of Wei’s allegations about the London office having a discriminatory environment and denied she was subjected to unwanted harassment relating to her gender or race.
Wei was lined up for a role in CIBC’s planned Luxembourg office after Brexit but was not offered a pay rise to reflect the step-up in responsibilities, she alleges.
Wei was meant to combine the roles of chief operating officer and chief risk officer – which CIBC told regulators would likely command salaries of 330,000 euros and 225,000 euros respectively – but was told she would remain on her existing base salary of 206,000 euros, she alleges.
By contrast, several white employees moving to Luxembourg were given the opportunity to negotiate their salaries, with at least two white men including the incoming chief executive of the Luxembourg unit obtaining pay rises, she alleges.
CIBC argued the salary levels submitted to regulators were estimates, adding it determined all relocating staff should be paid the same but converted from pounds to euros. Any changes to pay for other staff reflected their specific circumstances, the bank said in its defence document.
(Reporting by Iain Withers; editing by Carmel Crimmins)