A BNP Paribas SA banker who called his female colleague a “princess” said he meant it humorously and in a friendly manner, and he didn’t undervalue her work because she was a woman.
Regis Pecheux, the bank’s head of corporate sales for central and eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, said in a London court Thursday that he’d used the term about his colleague Angelina Georgievska “jokingly.” Pecheux supervised Georgievska.
“I certainly did not consider it belittling at the time,” he said. “It was meant more in a friendly manner.”
He’s testifying in an employment tribunal case where Georgievska, head of the bank’s corporate derivatives group for central and eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, is suing BNP for sex and disability discrimination. Georgievska’s been on long-term sick leave since March 2017, and is still ill, she said at an earlier hearing in the case. She suffers from uterine tumors that can cause “extreme pain” and leave her bedridden.
Pecheux called her a “princess” when she wasn’t in the room, one of her co-workers told the tribunal last week. Georgievska found the term “very offensive and undermining” when she found out, she said in court filings.
A spokeswoman for Paris-based BNP said the bank has “thoroughly investigated” the allegations and “is satisfied that the claims of alleged discrimination and unfair treatment are unfounded”.
Georgievska started her working days later than others, Pecheux said in his testimony, and he used the word to mean “somebody who’s above the general crowd” and therefore can “afford to arrive later” than others. “I was asking, where is our princess today?” he said.
“There was banter occurring on a regular basis,” Pecheux said. He said he’d also called her “choupette” - a French word that he said is roughly equivalent to “sweetie” or “darling.” He couldn’t remember whether he said that to her face or behind her back but said it was “absolutely not intended to be belittling”.
Another colleague later told him the word princess was inappropriate, he said.
In UK employment cases, an award is capped at around 84,000 pounds ($106,400) unless a worker can show discrimination or that they were blowing the whistle on improper actions.
When faced with a full court hearing, banks fighting sex discrimination claims often tend to settle rather than air the issues in public.