And the B stands for banter.
BNP Paribas' head of legal for Equity Capital Markets called an Asian colleague a "Cheeky Chink", RollOnFriday can reveal, while another senior lawyer declared that his managers at the bank were "cunts".
Benoit Faure made the "Cheeky Chink" comment in an email last May after an Asian employee asked his team to provide some Excel spreadsheet data. The lawyer used the slur in a message he sent to colleagues after thanking her.
An inside source described Faure as "old school" and liable to write "offensive things", but said the French national was "definitely not racist" and may have been tripped up by a language barrier. BNP Paribas has suspended the senior lawyer over his conduct, said the insider, although neither the bank nor Faure confirmed if any action had been taken against him.
The incident is likely to bring further pressure to bear on the French company after it was accused of whitewashing an investigation into Faure's colleague, Benedict Foster, earlier this year. Foster, who is BNP Paribas' London head of legal for debt and equity, issued a public apology for referring to an Asian colleague as 'Hu She'.
"I accept that I have said things to colleagues that were unacceptable. While a full investigation found no racist intent on my part, I understand that certain remarks made by me caused offence", Foster told The Telegraph in January. "I can only apologise for any distress I have caused, accept the appropriate sanction from my employer and commit to doing better in future", he said.
RollOnFriday has obtained the email chain in which Foster made the remark, and can confirm that the woman whom Foster called 'Hu She' is the same person referred to in derogatory terms by Faure. The correspondence shows that Faure was annoyed that a BNP Paribas announcement had put a positive spin on the departure of two staff, and asked who was responsible for the message. Foster suggested it was their Asian colleague, stating, "Isn't that Hu She? Global Head of Bag-Carrying?"
An internal investigation cleared Foster of racism over the comment. He was also accused of calling an Indian colleague "Biryani", but told investigators that he was actually using his own rhyming slang for the bank's General Counsel, Georges Dirani, said a source. Investigators exonerated him in relation to the allegation.
Foster's comfort with robust language in a work setting was evidenced by another email leaked to RollOnFriday in which the solicitor referred to a female boss and two other BNP Paribas managers as "cunts".
The bank’s treatment of Foster has infuriated some BNP Paribas staff, according to posts on the bank's internal messaging platform.
After details of Foster's 'Hu She' and 'Biryani' emails appeared in the press, UK employees took to the messaging app to complain about the bank's findings. In posts seen by RollOnFriday, they argued that Foster's punishment, which comprised a formal disciplinary warning and "additional remedial requirements" which included a training session, were too mild and indicated the bank was not treating the incident sufficiently seriously.
"How can we possibly hope to change the culture of the organisation when there are no consequences for blatant racist behaviour...It's frankly embarrassing to work for BNP Paribas right now", said one employee. "It's quite clear that the grievance process is a sham and a farce", said another.
The bank’s UK General Counsel, Helen Fletcher, responded by telling UK staff on the platform that Foster's comments were "undoubtedly rude, inappropriate and hurtful", and that "the uncomfortable reality is that whilst not racially motivated, this form of name calling has naturally had an impact on the experience of members of my team". However, said Fletcher, "it was clearly established that the label Biryani was not a reference to an employee of Indian origin" and that "in relation to the label Hu She", the internal BNP Paribas panel "was satisfied that this label was not racially motivated".
An employee responded, "The words used by the individual are quite clearly racist and many of us do not require an investigation panel at the bank to tell us otherwise. Now perhaps the response to me will be that I am missing the content or that I do not know exactly what or how it was said, but until there is transparency and we are told exactly what was said then this will be the (in my opinion) very obvious conclusion". He added that "D&I is becoming meaningless as an action or goal when its context is simply based on how it looks to the outside would".
"We understand why the actions the bank took may look inadequate to the outside world", responded UK HR head Louise Fitzgerald-Lombard, "but be under no illusions: this was taken seriously, investigated forensically and the actions taken have serious, long term implications".
In a fractious to and fro between staff and management on the platform, Simon Olenka, UKMEA head of BNP Paribas, chipped in to tell them that, "whilst I am not personally involved in any of [the cases] I do know that they will have been investigated in microscopic detail. The problem is, respecting the confidential and sensitive nature of these incidents means that its not possible to communicate in advance".
At the time of publication, BNP Paribas, Foster, and Faure had not commented.