Royal Bank of Canada wrongly dismissed a former trader for sounding an alarm about what he considered a culture of “box-ticking” with regards to compliance policies, according to a sharply worded ruling from a British employment tribunal.
John Banerjee was RBC’s head of emerging market foreign exchange trading in London when he was fired in 2016. Months earlier, he had e-mailed a senior banker with complaints that many members of staff were spending only a few cursory minutes completing an annual form attesting to the fact that they had read and understood a series of regulatory and compliance policies.
Although RBC claimed Mr. Banerjee had been fired primarily due to his habit of arriving late to work, about which he’d been repeatedly warned, a judge ruled his tardiness was used as a “pretext.” The judgment concludes the bank “looked for an opportunity to be rid of him” after he blew the whistle on allegedly lax compliance habits among employees.
In a rare win for a British whistle-blower, Judge James Tayler describes RBC’s actions as “egregious,” and says the “main reason” Mr. Banerjee was dismissed was his disclosure on an issue “that is of the utmost public interest.” The tribunal did not try to determine whether RBC’s compliance culture was deficient, as Mr. Banerjee alleged.
An RBC spokesperson said the bank “strongly” disagrees with the ruling and is appealing. “RBC takes its duties as an employer very seriously and encourages a robust compliance culture, which includes promoting the freedom for employees to speak up and blow the whistle,” said a statement from the bank, and it is reviewing the judgment to see whether it should make improvements to “any employment processes.”
RBC declined further comment “whilst the proceedings are ongoing.”
In an interview, Mr. Banerjee said he hopes the ruling sends a signal “that it is possible for a whistle-blower to win,” and alleged that RBC has “done everything in its power to delay and increase my costs.”
The dispute focuses on an e-mail Mr. Banerjee sent to Jonathan Hunter, RBC’s global head of fixed income, currencies and commodities, in mid-April of 2016. Days earlier, Mr. Hunter had said at a town hall that it was not acceptable to know something is wrong but say nothing, and that “don’t ask, don’t tell will not be tolerated," according to Mr. Banerjee.
In his e-mail, Mr. Banerjee said “there seems to be a widespread belief within RBC that so long as the motions appear to have been gone through and appropriate boxes ticked, that this reduces risk,” creating what he called “a false sense of security.” Colleagues he spoke to allegedly spent “less than three minutes” completing an annual compliance form that required them to attest to understanding numerous lengthy policies. One policy he tried to read wasn’t accessible because of a broken link – but no one else had raised this as a problem.
The bank investigated three specific claims in Mr. Banerjee’s e-mail, but the judge concluded it had taken an overly narrow approach and “done nothing” to look into whether a broader box-ticking culture existed.
Mr. Banerjee’s relationship with his managers and colleagues was not always an easy one – the ruling describing him as “dogged in the extreme” and “a thorn in the side of his management," and says he “bears an element of responsibility for his dismissal” because he was chronically late for work.
But the judge concludes that employers should “protect genuine whistle-blowers, even if they find them somewhat enervating.”
Mr. Banerjee, who has support from the non-profit organization WhistleblowersUK, is seeking millions of British pounds in compensation.