HSBC (USA) Sexual Harassment case goes to court

As previously reported HSBC in NY are facing allegations of retaliation against two employees for reporting sexual harassment against their colleague “Jane Doe”. The matter has now received a preliminary hearing as reported here by Law360.

HSBC (USA) Securities Inc. is facing a pair of lawsuits in New York federal court alleging it retaliated against employees who reported that a now-fired executive was sexually harassing a female subordinate, including by pressuring her to have sex with bank clients.

The previously unreported suits, filed June 20 and Aug. 14, claim that Eileen Hedges, formerly the senior vice president and head of business development for the bank’s North American unit, repeatedly harassed an unnamed 27-year-old subordinate referred to as Jane Doe. The complaints say Hedges inappropriately touched Doe, encouraged her to dress provocatively and pressured her to have sex with male HSBC executives and clients at company-sponsored events.

The retaliation claims were filed by Michael Picarella, a current HSBC employee who was supervised by Hedges, and James Rist, a former employee who says he dated Doe and personally witnessed some of the alleged harassment. Picarella says he was effectively demoted after reporting Hedges’ conduct to bank officials, while Rist claims his yearly bonus was cut by more than 60 percent.

HSBC said in a Sept. 12 court filing that it had fired Hedges following an investigation, though the bank denied engaging in retaliation.

During a brief hearing in Manhattan federal court Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter said he was “extremely unlikely” to dismiss the litigation at the current stage, and encouraged the parties to engage in settlement discussions.

The suits contain a laundry list of lurid allegations. According to Picarella, Hedges falsely told co-workers that Doe was having sex with clients when they traveled to bank functions outside the U.S., told Doe about her own alleged extramarital affairs with HSBC executives and pressured Doe to have sex with an unnamed senior executive at the bank’s Mexico unit.

According to Rist, the executive in Mexico inappropriately touched Doe on multiple occasions during an HSBC conference in Key Largo, Florida, in 2012. During the same conference, an unnamed HSBC managing director allegedly told Doe in the presence of others that he would like “to bend her over, pull her pants down, and spread her cheeks,” Rist claimed.

Both Picarella and Rist claimed that on another occasion, Hedges attempted to pull down Doe’s blouse and expose her breasts in the presence of male HSBC employees.

The complaints said HSBC fired Doe in May 2012 after accusing her of denying having a private relationship with Rist. In fact, the complaints argued, the bank fired Doe in retaliation for her complaints about Hedges, and to prevent her from revealing the alleged harassment to bank officials.

An HSBC representative could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday. The bank was hit with an unrelated retaliation suit in New York federal court on Tuesday, alleging it fired a junior analyst who complained about a colleague’s unwanted sexual advances.