BNP Paribas lawyer who kept his job after calling Asian colleague ‘Hu She’ leaves French bank

A senior lawyer at BNP Paribas has left the bank just months after he was told he could keep his job despite calling an Asian colleague “Hu She”. 

In an email to staff on Monday night, the bank announced that Benedict Foster, head of legal for debt and equity at the French lender’s London office, was “retiring” from BNP Paribas. He has not worked since early February, according to insiders.

It came after The Telegraph revealed in January that Mr Foster was handed only a slap on the wrist after an internal disciplinary tribunal judged that his comments did not amount to racism or discrimination. 

Emails also showed that he referred to another employee as “Biryani”, which was a reference to an Indian colleague, according to multiple sources. 

Mr Foster denied that this term was used in reference to an Indian colleague and BNP’s investigation found in his favour. He received a sanction, which included additional training, but was allowed to stay in post. 

However, management at BNP Paribas came under increasing pressure following the revelation of the emails, with staff complaining that the penalty was too lenient, leading to a fractious exchange with management. 

In posts on the bank’s internal “RungWay” messaging forum, seen by The Telegraph, one employee said: “How can we possibly hope to change the culture of the organisation when there are no consequences for blatant racist behaviour … it’s frankly embarrassing to work for BNP Paribas right now.”

Another added: “It’s quite clear that the grievance process is a sham and a farce.”

Responding to the complaints, Helen Fletcher, the bank’s UK general counsel, said the comments were “undoubtedly rude, inappropriate and hurtful” but added that management was satisfied that the “label Hu She … was not racially motivated” and the “Biryani” comment “was not a reference to an employee of Indian origin”. 

Ms Fletcher was not involved in the disciplinary tribunal, according to a source close to the company. 

Louise Fitzgerald-Lombard, BNP Paribas’ HR head in the UK, also said: “We understand why the actions the bank took may look inadequate to the outside world … but be under no illusions: this was taken seriously, investigated forensically and the actions taken have serious, long-term implications.”

Despite conducting an investigation, BNP did not know that emails containing the comments existed until The Telegraph made the bank aware of them in January. 

The saga raises serious questions about the bank’s handling of internal complaints and comes after Stacey Macken, a female BNP banker, won more than £2m in compensation last month for sexual discrimination she suffered at the lender. 

On the bank’s internal forum, one employee said the judgement in Ms Macken’s case “just shows how stupid and inept BNP Paribas was in the way it handled the case”, adding that Mr Foster’s comments “were also brushed aside”. 

A spokesman declined to comment on whether Mr Foster received a payout upon retirement or if he was deemed to be a “good leaver”.

BNP Paribas declined to comment. Mr Foster did not respond to requests for comment.

In January, Mr Foster said: “I accept that I have said things to colleagues that were unacceptable. While a full investigation found no racist intent on my part, I understand that certain remarks made by me caused offence.”

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