Société Générale’s Zeina Bignier loses case against being axed
Zeina, voted woman of the year in 2006 at the company, was dismissed after colleagues said she was a disrespectful control freak
Paris — An executive who was voted woman of the year at Société Générale lost a lawsuit where she was seeking €5.2m.
Zeina was dismissed after colleagues accused her of being a disrespectful control freak and her bosses decided she was unfit for her management role. Bignier’s demands were dismissed by judges at the Paris employment tribunal on Thursday.
Bignier says she was harassed by her managers and compliance officers and then fired out of the blue in 2016. The former SocGen executive argues she is still suffering from burnout three years after her dismissal.
A 21-year-employee at the Paris-based bank, Bignier was named woman of the year in 2006. In the early 2000s, she set up and led a unit focusing on public-sector origination and worked on restructuring the Greek debt.
Representatives for SocGen declined to immediately comment on the ruling. Valerie Meimoun-Hayat, a lawyer for Bignier, did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment. A court official read out the result of the ruling on the phone but the full details will not be available for weeks.
At a hearing in her unfair dismissal case in March, SocGen lawyer Arnaud Chaulet began by admitting that Bignier was a strong performer. But he said concerns about her management style had existed for a long time and intensified in the months before she was fired.
Specifically, one junior colleague alleged she called him a “dimwit” in front of others and, on another occasion, yelled at him during a meeting to prevent him from sharing his views, according to Chaulet. The SocGen lawyer said Bignier also had problems with higher-ups, and at one point told her boss, “you lack courage”.
Bignier’s lawyer acknowledged her client had a “headstrong personality,” but said the accusations were based on hearsay.
“During a 21-year-career, when there’s tremendous stress, an outburst can occur,” Meimoun-Hayat said during the March hearing. “You have to understand the environment in which Bignier is accused of controlling her teams too much.”
Meimoun-Hayat said the stress of the job became worse as the banking industry became more focused on compliance after financial disasters such as the record loss caused by rogue trader Jerome Kerviel.
“This is the Kafkaesque world of intense pressure from compliance,” Meimoun-Hayat said.