Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

London — A senior lawyer who blew the whistle on alleged sexual harassment and bullying at a top Lloyd’s of London insurance company is suing his employer for what he called a campaign of harassment, racial discrimination and victimisation. 

Ifeanyi Okoh said in a complaint filed in October with a London employment tribunal that executives at Tokio Marine Kiln (TMK) attempted to undermine his credibility by characterising him as mentally unstable and motivated by financial gain after he sent senior managers an e-mail in April criticising what he called a culture of fear and harassment at the firm.

Bloomberg News reported in June on Okoh’s memo, which included allegations that a top executive groped several colleagues at a booze-fuelled party earlier in 2019.

Okoh sent his e-mail to TMK CEO Charles Franks and others after several current and former employees approached him to complain about abuse they had endured or witnessed at the firm, including unwanted sexual touching and stalking. That followed a Bloomberg Businessweek article published in March that detailed endemic sexual misconduct in the 331-year-old Lloyd’s of London insurance market. TMK is the Lloyd’s of London underwriting arm of Tokio Marine Holdings, Japan’s oldest insurance company.

“I have been contacted by several TMK employees and ex-employees who recounted some of the most appalling and shocking details of bullying, intimidation, harassment, victimisation, unwanted attention, sexual harassment and racial abuse,” Okoh wrote in his April 1 e-mail, seen by Bloomberg News. “Sadly, this is part of a longstanding pattern in TMK, one further amplified by systemic intimidation, normalisation of harassment and inhibiting reporting.”

A TMK spokesperson said the company couldn’t comment on the specifics of Okoh’s harassment complaint. “We have a clear whistle-blowing policy in place and are committed to a working environment where all employees feel safe to speak up, without any retribution,” she said.

“We do not tolerate the victimisation of any whistle-blower, and are committed to promoting diversity and inclusion at every level of the business. We acted promptly on the original allegations made by the whistle-blower, and a thorough and independent investigation into these is well under way.”

The spokesperson also said TMK has taken a number of steps to ensure a “safe, empowering and respectful workplace”. A spokesperson for Lloyd’s said the insurer is satisfied that TMK is taking the reports of abuse “extremely seriously”.

‘Extreme stress’

A week after sending the e-mail, Okoh was called into a meeting with a more senior manager. The executive, whom Okoh had labelled a bully in his e-mail to the CEO, berated him for his “crap” work, even though he had received a glowing appraisal a weeks earlier, according to the complaint. Okoh said in the filing the manager became so agitated and adversarial that he asked if a colleague could join them. At that point the manager allegedly ended the meeting, telling him “this relationship is not going to work”.

That evening, Okoh “suffered an extreme stress reaction” and he hasn’t returned to work since, according to the filing. Okoh declined to comment.

While convalescing, Okoh was told by Nigel Clemson, TMK’s head of human resources, that the manager had brought a grievance against him for his behaviour during the meeting, according to the complaint. Days later, Okoh said in the filing, his access to his work e-mails was cut off without warning, and TMK blocked his personal e-mail address from sending messages to the work server.

Around that time, Clemson asked the company’s information security manager for access to Okoh’s work e-mails “for monitoring purposes following suggestions of inappropriate behaviour”, the filing said.

Seek help

On April 24, according to the complaint, Franks, the CEO, sent an e-mail to Clemson suggesting he get advice from the firm’s outside lawyers on how to handle Okoh and “protect the various employees he is either naming or implicating in his allegations”.

Two days later, Clemson sent a text message to another executive detailing the law firm’s advice, which included expressing concern to Okoh about his mental health and urging him to “seek urgent medical help”, according to the complaint. After the executive pushed back, saying it wasn’t their job to assess Okoh’s mental health, the filing said, Clemson responded: “Their logic is it shows us as caring and that it flags his questionable state of mind.”

Clemson and Franks, who is named as a defendant in the suit, didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment.

A few weeks later, according to the filing, Okoh heard from a third party that a senior official at the insurer had told the person that the whistle-blower was mentally unsound. The official also allegedly said Okoh was motivated by financial gain and was probably only doing so “because the claimant is ‘black’.”

The unidentified third party reported those comments to the UK’s Prudential Regulatory Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority, the complaint said. Spokespeople for the FCA and the PRA declined to comment. A lawyer for the senior official denied the allegations.

Okoh is seeking unspecified damages and a statement from the company that he has been subjected to unlawful treatment.

Bloomberg 

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