How a Citigroup unit in New York turned into a hotbed of drugs, sexual harassment - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

How a Citigroup unit in New York turned into a hotbed of drugs, sexual harassment

Bloomberg |
Mar 24, 2024 12:09 PM IST

Over at least a decade, Citigroup employees openly ogled female colleagues, rated them by their looks and bragged about their sexual conquests.

Bankers from Citigroup Inc. were partying with clients one night in May 2018 at a downtown Manhattan hot spot called Catch.

Boorish behaviour at the division included the use of cocaine in the Citigroup office(Reuters)
Boorish behaviour at the division included the use of cocaine in the Citigroup office(Reuters)

One of them, a recent college grad, had landed in the equities division for her two-year rotational program at the bank and had brought her roommate along to the party. As the evening progressed, one of the unit’s bosses came up behind the roommate and surprised her by grinding his crotch against her, according to two people who said they saw him. 

HT launches Crick-it, a one stop destination to catch Cricket, anytime, anywhere. Explore now!

Months later, that rotator said, a male trader told her to wear shorter skirts and higher heels to work and made multiple inquiries into her love life.

Interviews with 22 people who worked in or closely with the equities division suggest the incidents weren't an aberration, painting a picture of persistent harassment and discrimination at Citigroup's equities unit in New York, which advises on and executes trades for top hedge funds and other Wall Street players.

ALSO READ: World Health Organisation doctor fired after sexual misconduct findings against him

The accounts echo allegations in a lawsuit filed last year by a managing director who claims such conduct continued until as recently as 2022. After the lawsuit hit, the firm encouraged staff to speak up if they observe misconduct.

Over at least a decade, employees openly ogled female colleagues, rated them by their looks and bragged about their sexual conquests, according to the interviews with the workers, who asked for anonymity because of concerns about retaliation.

Boorish behaviour at the division included the use of cocaine in the office, they said. Complaints to senior executives and human resources didn't lead to change, fueling the perception of an insulated in-crowd and prompting several employees to leave while some alleged perpetrators remain, the people said.

Citigroup, which three years ago made history by appointing Jane Fraser as the first female CEO of a major US bank, has led rivals on many measures of a more equitable culture. Yet the behaviour within the stock-trading unit stood out even in an industry that has struggled for decades to rein in conduct that makes women feel unwelcome.

ALSO READ: ‘Deliver the change or get off the train’: Citgroup CEO's stern message to employees

A spokesperson for Citigroup, Mark Costiglio, said no one should be discriminated against or harassed at work. “Our efforts to foster an inclusive and equitable workplace culture never stop, and ensuring that our standards are well understood and complied with by everyone at Citi is a continuous, proactive process,” he said. 

“We provide colleagues with a number of avenues to raise concerns in confidence, and when substantiated we will take appropriate action, up to and including termination of employment. While we will not comment on individual internal matters, simply put, where warranted, we exit employees who fail to meet our high standards of respectful treatment.”

Known for its fixed-income prowess, Citigroup has long ranked last among the big five Wall Street banks in equities trading revenue. Despite efforts to change that, it’s fallen further behind JPMorgan Chase & Co., which generates about $5 billion more in revenue from the business, a gap that was roughly $3 billion in 2019.

ALSO READ: Google worker claims he was fired for rejecting female colleague's advances: Report

The biggest investment banks typically have a little more than 1,000 front-office employees in their equities trading divisions, according to consultancy Coalition Greenwich. Citigroup doesn’t disclose its team’s size, but that would make its group a small, though lucrative, part of its 240,000-person global operations.

The equities division’s leadership was rejiggered five times in about 12 years, a period that saw the unit grapple with repeated bouts of misbehaviour.

One female derivatives trader recalled sitting at a client dinner at Locanda Verde near the bank’s headquarters in 2010 when a colleague reached under the table and put his hand on her leg. Around that time, she said, a research analyst asked her why she didn’t wear sexier shoes.

She told HR and senior managers about both, describing an ugly culture that she saw as pervasive, and remembers one female executive encouraging her to brush it off. 

Years later, the conversation stands out as disheartening. One colleague remembered the trader speaking about harassment at the time, and another recalled hearing about the exchange with the executive.

ALSO READ: 'Fired from job for harassment complaint'

“Although several of the alleged incidents would clearly violate Citi’s code of conduct, we have not identified a complaint being filed for several of them, others are more than a decade old, and some contain allegations that are either baseless, too vague, or involve people who have left the firm,” said Costiglio.

Two other women said they stayed quiet about being sexually harassed by colleagues out of fear of retaliation in an industry that prizes discretion and loyalty. 

Six people there besides the derivatives trader said that they complained about what they saw as workplace misconduct to senior colleagues or human resources and were disappointed with the outcome, feeling the bank didn’t take sufficient action.

Three said they described separate incidents to Dan Keegan, who ran Citigroup’s trading business across North America. According to one of them, Keegan was told that senior staffers egged on a junior banker to show the underwear of a woman he’d apparently slept with; Keegan, who left Citigroup in 2022, didn’t respond to messages. Five people saw the incident or heard about it at the time. The young banker was fired.

“The person involved in that incident was terminated as a result of an investigation and the direct manager who failed to escalate the matter was disciplined,” Costiglio said.

Before a new class of young colleagues joined around 2018, bankers prepared for their arrival by circulating a dossier that included their photos. Employees judged their attractiveness and openly discussed favourites, according to one person who saw it and two others who heard of it at the time. A similar account was included in last November’s lawsuit from Ardith Lindsey, the managing director.

In 2020, as the division continued to deal with under-performance, Fater Belbachir was brought in as equities chief. Yet problems persisted. After a hot streak in 2021, a London staffer’s fat-finger trade sparked a flash crash in European stocks, a blow for Fraser and Belbachir, who still runs the unit. Lindsey’s lawsuit alleged that he ignored women and was among a group of male managers that bonded by discussing sexual conquests.

Employee alleges manager coerced her into a relationship

“The reference to Mr. Belbachir is based on an unsubstantiated claim in a lawsuit that Citi is strongly contesting,” Costiglio said.

One of those male managers was Mani Singh, an executive who coerced Lindsey into a relationship and threatened her and her children, Lindsey said in her lawsuit.

“When questioned several years ago about a large financial transaction between them, Ms. Lindsey described Mr. Singh as only a friend,” Costiglio said, adding that she later told the bank that the relationship was consensual. It couldn’t have been, according to Lindsey’s attorney, because of the difference in power between the two.

After Lindsey formally complained, Costiglio added, “we immediately placed Mr. Singh on leave and began an investigation. Mr. Singh resigned within days, before the investigation could be completed.” Singh didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Lindsey’s complaint depicted an environment where men talked about which women they wanted to sleep with, treating them as “sexual objects.” In interviews with Bloomberg News after her lawsuit was filed, five women who’ve worked in the division described similar experiences of men ogling them as they walked the trading floor as recently as 2019. 

Three said they were also upset by Singh’s behaviour toward them: One junior employee, for example, said he would drop his credit card in front of her to request she fetch him food.

One bleak episode contributed to the sense that the division protected an in-crowd. When a top trader pleaded guilty to a charge of driving while intoxicated with a child in his car, Citigroup asked regulators not to disqualify him, industry records show. The bank did not remove the trader, who still works there, from top accounts, including the billionaire Steve Cohen’s hedge fund, five colleagues said.

Bankers consumed cocaine at firm's HQ, claim witnesses

On Wall Street, bankers and traders have long used drugs, but their prevalence in this group stood out to employees who’ve worked at other firms. Bankers did cocaine at the company’s Manhattan headquarters and with colleagues and clients outside it, according to three people who saw it themselves. 

One member of the team said she was at her desk on the trading floor around 2016 when she saw a coworker with white residue between his nose and lip. She suggested he wipe it off.

Citigroup tells deal makers to rein in on drinking at client events

The bank has recently taken steps to crack down on bad behaviour. Last month, Citigroup told its investment bank’s dealmakers to rein in their drinking at client events, reminding them to keep the firm’s reputation in mind after complaints of unruliness. And a senior dealmaker in its equity capital markets group was put on leave this year amid an investigation into a verbal altercation with a junior banker.

Fraser, meanwhile, is in the midst of the bank’s biggest overhaul in decades. She’s trying to shrink the lender after it became one of Wall Street’s most bloated institutions, with missed financial goals and a stock price that trails peers.

The rotator who went to Catch and was told to shorten her skirts recalled going to Salima Habib, a move that three others said they heard about at the time.

The rotator recalls Habib saying she’d have to tell a manager and also offering advice: going directly to HR was another option, but it would be arduous, or the younger woman could try confronting the man directly.

“The comments attributed to Ms. Habib by unnamed sources have been mischaracterized and are not consistent with her record of supporting and empowering women throughout her career,” the spokesperson said.

The rotator also remembers Habib, who was recently promoted to run sales in the US for the division, offering her one more recommendation: Try to meditate.

Discover the complete story of India's general elections on our exclusive Elections Product! Access all the content absolutely free on the HT App. Download now!
Stay informed on Business News, TCS Q4 Results Live, Jio Financial Services Q4 Results Live along with Gold Rates Today, India News and other related updates on Hindustan Times Website and APPs
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Saturday, April 20, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On