Social Justice
October 1, 2011 12:40 AM   Subscribe

Righting social injustice, and racism, in investment banking

Dear MetaFilter - a request for advice:

A friend of mine is debating a lawsuit against a major corporation on the basis of racial and religious discrimination.
I'd like to know whom she can contact for legal advice (ACLU? other social justice affiliated bodies or law firms?).

She is Jewish, working for a giant global investment and commercial bank which hired her for Dubai, and when she asked if it should be of concern that she's Jewish and has traveled to Israel, but HR said it was not an issue. The US consulate similarly assured her this was not an issue, from a passport/visa/regulations standpoint. She spent 1 year in Dubai, but by chance the country head and COO of the business in Dubai (a Christian British national) found out that she was Jewish.

He called her in, told her that it was a "mistake" for the company to have sent her to Dubai, and that her presence, because of her religion, threatened their business and reputation. He insisted that she burn her passport and report it stolen to the US government (I'm no lawyer, but that sounds like destruction of federal property, perjury, and providing false witness of a crime to the State Department, and sounds like it might be a felony).

When she refused to perjure herself to the US government, the COO became enraged, told her that this would significantly affect her performance review and her career with the company, and that he could use his government contacts to have her taken in for questioning by the authorities and interrogated if she did not comply.

When she continued to refuse he had the company remove her role in Dubai, ended her work visa in UAE, and had her relocated to another country overseas.
Is there an agency that should be alerted?
Is there a group that can help see some justice done so that the company cannot harm others in such a way in the future?
posted by earthwalker7 to Work & Money (15 answers total)
A U.S. government agency she may want to contact is the EEOC.
posted by lalex at 1:18 AM on October 1, 2011

I'm not sure I can help much here, but I wanted to nail down some details: do you know if the division she was sent to in Dubai merely an affiliate with its legal foundations or headquarters in Dubai, or is this definitely a 100% US-headquartered company with an outpost in Dubai? I too work for a huge multinational with offices everywhere, but I also know that while all of those locations are deeply, incestuously related to their US 'parent', at least some of them are legally separate entities based in foreign countries and thus probably able to slip through some loopholes in international and US law (or at least it's enforcement). I'd imagine that information would make a big difference in your friend's case, and in who she should turn to for help. But I'll shut up and leave it to the experts now.

(I certainly agree that the burn-your-passport stuff is crazy bad. Sounds like a terrifying situation, and I'm sorry your friend went through this.)
posted by involution at 1:23 AM on October 1, 2011

The fact that she's overseas really throws a monkey wrench in this whole thing. Dubai in particular is infamous for its employment practices, and there's really very little to be done in their legal system.

But here's the thing: she's an i-banker. I-bankers know lawyers. Her firm is probably a client of one of the big, multinational law firms headquartered out of London or New York. I'd be somewhat surprised if she didn't have some of these guys on speed dial. While they may not be able to help her directly due to client conflicts, they'll definitely be able to put her in touch with someone who can.

That's her first step.
posted by valkyryn at 2:42 AM on October 1, 2011

In the UAE, unless they are based in one of the Free Zones, no business entity could be entirely non-UAE owned. Majority holding by a UAE entity or individual is required. As far as I know, banks don't operate in the economic free zones, but I may be wrong about that.

It may not have been unreasonable for the UAE COO to have her transferred out of the country (maybe, kind of, sort of); the rest of it sounds completely crazy. It seems to me that the only place where her visits to Israel would have been an issue would have been when the company applied for her work visa, but that it's POSSIBLE that at some point, at an immigration checkpoint, it could become an issue.

I'm not sure at all why he thought the fact of her being Jewish would be a problem for the company; I know several Jewish women who are living and working here perfectly comfortably.
posted by bardophile at 2:46 AM on October 1, 2011

Ok, ex-Investment Banker / long term American ex-pat here who has spent about half his adult life living & working abroad and more than likely will never live in America again if I can avoid it. I've still got my finger in the Investment Banking game since I write and sell buy side market commentary to banks and funds, and consult from time to time in niche areas. There is a lot to cover in your question but I have to keep this brief.

A key detail that you've left out would be her contract: local or ex-pat? There is a fundamental difference, an ex-pat contract (which I had for my first four years working abroad) clearly notes you are a domestic US employee of the bank who has been seconded overseas. The firm has specific obligations that will be detailed in your contract, most notably one of repatriation after your term is complete. In other words, they pay to send you abroad, pay to bring you home and guarantee a job in both locales. While on such an ex-pat contract almost always disputes are clearly remanded to a US court of law (at least this was the case with every contract I'd held and my friends / colleagues as well). In other words, US law would most likely prevail.

If she's on a local contract she's probably SOL, as US employment law and practices simply do not apply while working abroad. And not to make an excuse, but the same applies for American sensibilities of fairness and appropriate behaviour. Now I'm most certainly NOT making an excuse for the COO's behaviour, as documented, however this is something I have bumped up against many times during my career working abroad.

It seems the person on the ground, the COO, has a fundamental disagreement with HR back in The United States. This disagreement pertains to the composition of staff he's been provided with as HR hired her, the COO didn't. Your friend got caught in the middle of this.

There are other details missing - he seems to have wanted to eliminate a record of a staff member's dealings with Israel, but why is not clear - was she headed to Saudi, by any chance? When I was working in that part of the world banks were incredibly anal about insuring staff sent to Saudi for any reason whatsoever had never travelled to Israel before. Same seems to apply to other nations as well - I'm prepping for a trip to Iran in the next few months, and my clients (an Investment Bank) were rather up front about asking 1) had I ever visited before and 2) was there a record of this visit my passport, before we started the Iranian visa process.

Again, American sensibilities don't work here. If a staff member had travelled to Israel we wouldn't have a problem with it. And I suspect from a personal perspective the British COO wouldn't have a problem with it either. But professionally he's charged with achieving certain objectives and knows that many companies in the region simply will not do business in any way, shape or form with a bank presenting staff who have either traveled to or exhibit sympathies to Israel. I honestly don't think its anything more involved than this since, as I've mentioned, I've bumped into this specific issue myself. Destroying the passport would have only been the first step in deceit as her Saudi (or Iranian) visa application will openly ask. So good on her for putting a stop to the slippery trail at the outset, as if she was found out while on the ground in Saudi the outcome might become more convoluted and perhaps protracted.

Ok now you state that he "had her relocated to another country overseas" then further ask about actions such that "the company cannot harm others in such a way in the future?".

Curious, but specifically what harm has been done? The life of an ex-pat is just that - global mobility. There was a period in my career when my contract said the firm could relocate me with just a few weeks notice. Lots of times when I went on what should have been a two or three days business trip to Africa or other far flung destinations, I'd end up staying for weeks. I got moved from Germany to England at short (i.e., about one month) notice. This is part and parcel of the ex-pat existence.

Do we have any further details on her contract? It seems she's been taken care of i.e., working in another country, not terminated while abroad. I'm not sure what the damage is and unless the conversation is clearly documented, she's going to have a tough time proving it. Not too mention expensive. And she's naive if she thinks she'll still be employed by that company in one country while suing it in another. They will get rid of her very quickly.

While as documented it certainly is an outrageous episode, it seems like dropping it is the best course of action. Chalk it up to experience and she go off very easily. The stories I could tell you about how indifferent or malicious some of the banks are towards staff. Tell her to save every penny while working abroad, acquire her own capital and get the hell out of banking while she's still young. That's exactly what I did and I don't regret it at all.
posted by Mutant at 2:50 AM on October 1, 2011 [13 favorites]

This seems a bit crazy. As far as I know, many of the major consulting firms, as well as some of the global law firms (many of which have a significant number of Jewish employees), have Dubai offices. It's hard to imagine there isn't a significant number of Jewish people there with an Israel stamp on their passport.

But, assuming everything to be 100% true...IAAL, but not an employment one, and so don't have anything substantive for your friend, but nearly all employment discrimination lawyers offer free consultations and so there is little downside in visiting one.
posted by redondo77 at 5:01 AM on October 1, 2011

There are plaintiff-side employment law firms. Plaintiffs' firms will usually give you a free consult while you explain what happened before evaluating whether you have a case.

There's a chance they're going to say she doesn't have a case they want to bring because she may not have damages (she was transferred to an equivalent position in a different foreign country?). But they should be able to point her at the right government agency that deals with this these things, although the corporation's foreign status might (depending on how it's structured and other things) mean that there's no jurisdiction.

If it were me, and I wanted to pursue this, I would start by googling "plaintiffs emplyoment law firm New York," or something to that effect.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:32 AM on October 1, 2011

She needs to contact an employment lawyer in the us, stat.
posted by yarly at 9:52 AM on October 1, 2011

There are plaintiff-side employment law firms.

Yes, and the vast majority of them will have no freaking clue what to do with this. I don't think there's a single attorney in my city that could handle a case of this nature. She's going to be better of contacting someone who knows the ex-pad and i-banking world, i.e. the lawyers she does business with on a regular basis, and getting a referral from them.
posted by valkyryn at 12:55 PM on October 1, 2011

It seems clear that the COO behaved inappropriately in flying into a rage, but like Mutant said, the one issue is whether this is a race/religion issue or the fact she'd been to Israel, independent of being Jewish. Although you don't mention that the COO found out she'd been to Israel, it sounds like it from the passport-burning thing. However, many countries, including the United States, will issue duplicate passports to allow people to travel to countries where having an Israeli visa would pose a problem. This suggests the COO is off his rocker, as I'd expect someone working in a region and field where this issue might arise would know about the duplicate passport thing. (It's a very tricky thing to google, so I can't find out if the UK issues duplicate passports, but it's pretty standard. I know about this not because I've ever been anywhere near the Middle East because one of the Germany U-21 footballers refused to go to Israel on the grounds he wanted to be able to visit family in Iran. A big row in the media ensued, where it was pointed out Germany issues duplicate passports. Of course, I'm not sure how much good that would do a footballer, should he become semi-prominent.)

If your friend is likely to visit Israel again and thinks she might go to Saudi Arabia or Iran at some point, Israel will also stamp a separate piece of paper to avoid the stamp in the passport.
posted by hoyland at 4:05 PM on October 1, 2011

UK allows you to have a second passport, I have two for visa issuing purposes.

Does her company have an ethics hotline she can call?
posted by arcticseal at 5:14 PM on October 1, 2011

Well regarded plaintiffs employment firms will absolutely know how to handle a case like this - that is what they exist for, to figure out if there is jurisdiction and a cause of.action in any employment case. Firms that represent or do business with investment banks (eg white shoe wall street firms) may be conflicted out.
posted by yarly at 8:36 PM on October 1, 2011

Well regarded plaintiffs employment firms will absolutely know how to handle a case like this

Emphasis on "well-regarded."

I guess what I was getting at is that this is actually one of the few times where simply opening up the phone book and picking any random firm in the practice area is unlikely to work, particularly if you live anywhere but New York, DC, Chicago, LA, etc. Car accident? Will for grandma? Buying a home? The yellow pages have got that covered. Employment law issue involving foreign jurisdictions and nationals and a potentially thorny choice-of-laws problem? Nuh uh.

I had a situation similar to this one (i.e. ex-pat but home base here in IN), I wouldn't even bother with local firms. Most of the local plaintiffs' lawyers don't even do all that well in federal court period (much to the annoyance of the local federal bench), and choice-of-law between US jurisdictions isn't something most of them handle very well even in state court. Anything that remotely touches on international law is going straight to a corporate firm down in Indy.
posted by valkyryn at 12:47 PM on October 4, 2011

This seems a bit crazy. As far as I know, many of the major consulting firms, as well as some of the global law firms (many of which have a significant number of Jewish employees), have Dubai offices. It's hard to imagine there isn't a significant number of Jewish people there with an Israel stamp on their passport.

As someone who lives and works in Dubai I can tell you that this is not true. Israeli stamp in a passport means no work visa, probably no tourist visa either. Of course, you could always use multiple passports.
posted by atrazine at 4:48 AM on October 19, 2011

My mistake, actually, it appears that travel to Israel is definitely not a problem for tourist entry in the UAE. (Although it is in several other GCC countries like KSA) For employment it might still be a problem though.

Obviously it was unprofessional of the COO to bring up that she was Jewish, that isn't a problem, but that she's travelled to Israel is actually a big deal. Reputation and personal connections are everything in IB, in this region even more than anywhere else and there are many clients who will not do business with anyone they regard as sympathetic to Israel.

If I was the COO in this case, I'd have had her re-assigned out of the region as well, but with her choice of postings and maybe a promotion to make up for it. I would then find out what clown gave her this advice and get him/her fired. All this passport burning stuff is just lunacy though.

There are other details missing - he seems to have wanted to eliminate a record of a staff member's dealings with Israel, but why is not clear - was she headed to Saudi, by any chance?/em>

Women can't get work visas for Saudi, so I'm sure this was not the case.

Oh, and I know a number of Jewish people working here. None of them would admit to having visited Israel to people they did not know very well, although of course many have been there a number of times.

posted by atrazine at 5:06 AM on October 19, 2011

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