Citigroup was not ageist for laying off a 55-year-old banker who was called “old” by his boss as the US bank went on to promote a colleague only slightly younger than him, a court has ruled.
London-based Niels Kirk, who worked on energy deals for the Wall Street giant, was awarded £2.7m ($3.2m) for unfair dismissal in 2020 after his lawyers argued that he was a victim of ageism because one of his bosses told him he was “too old and set in his ways”.
Mr Kirk, who had been at the bank for 26 years and took home £937,000 in 2014 before his salary later dropped to £534,000, said the decision to dismiss him was based on a perception that he was “old” rather than being “agile” and “flexible”.
However, the bank appealed the decision, arguing that he could not have been discriminated against based on age because the restructuring that led to the loss of his job also resulted in the promotion of a 51-year-old female colleague to head of department.
“An emphasis on ‘agility’ could be a conscious or unconscious device by which to favour a younger candidate over an older one. However, it would be odd, in our judgment, to consider that the term was being used here to favour a 51-year old over a 55-year old because of the difference in age,” the judgment said.
The decision means the employment tribunal will now be reheard. Lawyers representing Mr Kirk declined to comment, while a spokesman for Citigroup said the bank was “gratified with this decision in a number of respects. Most importantly, it overturns the Tribunal’s decision that the termination of Mr Kirk was discriminatory on the grounds of age”.
The decision will come as a boost for the bank, which suspended one of its top City bankers after he was accused of telling a female analyst that he needed “love and affection” while on a work trip in Barcelona.
Sources said that Jan Skarbek, one of the most high-profile dealmakers at Citigroup, is being investigated by the Wall Street lender after allegedly making the comments to a colleague while on a staff getaway.
The investigation into his conduct is understood to be at an early stage and no decisions have been made. Mr Skarbek declined to comment.
Financial institutions across Europe have been racing to crack down on complaints about inappropriate behaviour. BNP Paribas, the French bank, was last month reprimanded by the City watchdog for how it handled allegations by a female banker who suffered sexual discrimination while working in its London office.
A tribunal heard that drunk male colleagues placed a witch’s hat on Stacey Macken’s desk, while she was also told crude sexual stories by senior staff and was shouted down with the catchphrase “not now Stacey”.
Workplace lawsuits including the word “banter” have also shot up this year as former colleagues clash over what they deem to be acceptable office humour.
Employers have failed to justify their jokes in a number of recent legal battles, including a case involving a 69-year-old plumber in the Isle of Wight who was awarded £25,000 after bosses dubbed him ‘Half-dead Dave’ because of his age.