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Last Updated: Friday, 15 June 2007, 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK
Sexual discrimination in the City
By Amy Flanagan
BBC Two's Sex, The City and Me

A huge sexual discrimination claim worth more than $1bn is currently being brought against a major investment bank in London and New York as a class action for 500 women.

Whatever the outcome of that case, the vast majority of other cases have ended in gagging clauses, so a BBC programme seeks to reveal the truth behind stories like these for the first time in a fictional drama inspired by real, in depth testimony.

Senior banker Sarah, 40, sued her bank last year. Despite 15 years experience at the bank, she was paid significantly less than her male counterparts, referred to in meetings as a waitress and excluded from all-male client entertainment on the golf course.

Sarah Parish and cast members of Sex, the City and Me
Sex, The City and Me
2100 BST, BBC Two
Sunday 17 June

She was all the more angry because she "worked right up until my waters broke" and was then back in the office just a few days after she gave birth to prove a point.

"I thought they gave me respect for that, but looking back I was kidding myself."

The BBC spoke to dozens of women in confidence and the same stories emerged time and again.

Perhaps most shocking is that employees who dared take the banks to a tribunal encountered ruthless tactics in the lead-up to the hearings.

Corporate financier Carrie, 45, had her bank and email accounts tapped into.

Banker Fiona, 30, was followed and made the subject of a smear campaign in the papers. To pile on the pressure, copies of her work emails containing explicit sexual jokes were then sent to family and friends.

Sarah, Lucy and Joanna all told stories of personnel departments "losing" or destroying evidence that was vital to their cases.

I would find it easier to tell someone I'm HIV positive than to tell them I have sued for sexual discrimination, the stigma is so strong
Former bank employee

Sex, the City and Me was originally supposed to be a documentary looking at some of these cases. They are just some of the dozens of women we spoke to in confidence, but time and again we were thwarted by gagging clauses insisted on by the banks and agreed by the women as a condition of settlement.

Our only option became to tell the story as a drama. In this article, their names and identifiable details about their cases have been changed.

Maternity cases

According to the Equal Opportunities Commission, women in the City are paid 43% less than men - compared with a national pay gap of 22%. City employment lawyers say that more than half their sex discrimination cases are to do with pregnancy and maternity.

Katharina Tofeji, like the women we interviewed, has suffered a mental breakdown from the stress of bringing a maternity case. She is currently awaiting the outcome of the case she has brought against BNP Paribas.

Employment lawyer Camilla Palmer of Palmer and Wade always advises City-women to think very carefully before they litigate.

Actress Sarah Parish as city banker Jess Turner
Many women who sue end up sick in the process

"Many suffer severe stress when they go to court, most end up at the doctor at some point and it's particularly damaging if they're pregnant. And if you're a senior partner in the City, bringing a high class action, you'll never work in the City again," she says.

"It's time consuming, stressful, expensive and uncertain. And you have to face huge amounts of hostility. The power balance is stacked against women bringing cases."

Despite the warning, she said most of her City clients feel compelled to challenge the way they have been treated.

"There's only one thing worse than suing a bank and that's winning," says another employment lawyer, Gillian Howard. The vast majority never work in the City again; they become professional pariahs losing huge potential earnings. If they lose, the huge legal costs are life-changing.

Olivia, 40, who sued her bank in 2004, says that despite the veneer of equal opportunities, "in many ways, things are worse now for women than they used to be.

"I remember when traders used to crawl under our desks to see if we were wearing stockings, but that was easy to deal with.

"The sexism has now gone underground and while several of the big banks look like they're making concerted efforts to recruit more women, in my experience, they're still not following through."

"It just makes it easier for them to fight cases when they can say: 'look at our diversity training, we've ticked the box'. Any kind of work to redress inequality of any type should be applauded, but it needs to have teeth."

Olivia settled out of court, but has not worked since her case. "I genuinely think I would find it easier to tell someone I'm HIV positive than to tell them I have sued for sexual discrimination, the stigma is so strong," she says.

It doesn't help because a lot of women in the City think you're wrong to have done it, but money corrupts and you lose your moral compass. The truth has got to come out."

Sex, The City and Me made by Blast Films is on BBC Two on Sunday 17 June at 2100BST.


SEE ALSO
Sexism in the City
09 Jun 04 |  Business
Woman files City bank sex claim
10 May 06 |  London
City banker begins sex bias case
13 Jul 04 |  Southern Counties
Sexism in City case under way
08 Jun 04 |  Business

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