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Senior City Lawyer Keeps Job Despite Appeal From Asian Colleague ‘Hu She’

A French bank in the City of London has been embroiled in an alleged racism scandal after a senior lawyer kept his job despite an investigation finding he called an Asian colleague a ‘Hu She’.

BNP Paribas carried out a disciplinary investigation against the lead lawyer late last year after he was allegedly bullied and made racist remarks towards colleagues.

In emails seen by The Telegraph, Benedict Foster, legal head of debt and equity at BNP’s London office, referred to the Asian-born woman as “Hu She” on several occasions.

The emails reveal he referred to another colleague as “Biryani”, which was referring to an Indian colleague, according to two sources. Mr Foster denies that the term was used in reference to an Indian colleague and that the BNP investigation turned out in his favour.

He also referred to other staff as “c—s”, while another senior lawyer at the bank used the phrase “cheeky c—k” to refer to an Asian woman, according to the emails.

Following the internal investigation, Mr. Foster received a sanction from the bosses of the BNP but remains in his post. The bank concluded that neither its use of “Hu She” nor “Biryani” constituted racism or discrimination.

Yet the revelations will raise serious questions about the BNP’s culture and how it deals with allegations of misconduct.

It comes after a BNP banker won a gender discrimination case against the company in 2019 after telling an employment tribunal that she had suffered years of bullying and was paid less than men in comparable roles.

The court was told drunken male colleagues placed a witch hat on Stacey Macken’s desk, while senior staff also told her crude sex stories. Ms Macken is currently suing BNP for £3.4million.

Last year the bank said it would use the case as an “opportunity to strengthen its processes to prevent a similar situation from happening again”.

BNP bosses did not report Mr Foster’s comments to the Solicitors Regulation Authority because they did not believe they constituted racial slurs.

The SRA Code states that if the officers of an SRA-regulated business are of the opinion that the comments “are likely to constitute serious misconduct or which you believe should be brought to our attention for investigation”, then they “have an obligation to report the individual(s) to us”.

BNP’s own code of conduct states that “employees must not discriminate against anyone within the group”.

It adds: “Employees must reject all forms of discrimination, intimidation or harassment of other employees…based on factors such as race, color, creed, religion, nationality , ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, or political status.

BNP Paribas declined to comment.

Mr Foster said: ‘I recognize that I have said things to colleagues which were unacceptable. Although a full investigation has revealed no racist intentions on my part, I understand that some remarks I have made have caused offense.

“I can only apologize for any distress I have caused, accept appropriate punishment from my employer, and pledge to do better in the future. I am in the process of undergoing additional training and pledge to ensure that I treat my colleagues more respectfully.

The case comes following a diversity push in the financial sector following the Black Lives Matter movement, which has sparked global protests.

Last year, BNP ran ‘Speak Up’ training sessions for staff, which highlighted the importance of early reporting conduct issues such as racism to management or HR.

Regulators are also increasingly targeting language as a way to encourage a more inclusive culture in the Square Mile. In July, the city’s watchdog said it would ban the words “non-inclusive,” including the term “Chinese walls,” in its rules and guidelines.

In a separate case last year, a Barclays banker won an employment lawsuit after her supervisor was accused of using “sexist language” by calling women “birds”.