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In the case of Stimpson v Citibank N.A ET/3200437/15 an employment tribunal held that a foreign exchange trader who had been dismissed by a bank for disclosing confidential client information to traders from different banks through an online chat room had been unfairly and wrongfully dismissed.
Mr Stimpson was employed by Citibank as a trader from January 1989. During his appraisals in 2009 and 2010 he had been encouraged by his manager to join an online chat room in order to get better market information, however he was not given any specific guidance on what should be posted in the chat room. Citibank’s Code of Conduct and handbook provided some guidance to employees on handling confidential information. In 2013 and 2014 Citibank commenced reviews and investigation into its foreign exchange business as well as an independent regulatory investigation being undertaken by the Financial Conduct Authority. Mr Stimpson was suspended in March 2014 pending attendance to a formal hearing to address allegations that on 12 occasions between February 2010 and August 2011, he had inappropriately shared client confidential information with traders at other banks on chat rooms and this conduct had amounted to a breach of the implied duty of fidelity and specific Company policies. He was dismissed in November 2014.
The employment tribunal found that the summary dismissal of Mr Stimpson for disclosure of confidential information was wrongful and unfair as Citibank had a culture of information-sharing. The tribunal found that;
This case provides useful lessons for employers conducting disciplinary investigations and hearings for misconduct.
Employers should be mindful that they cannot rely on strict rules in policies if in practise they are not actually applied and enforced by the Company. The fact that the management at Citibank appeared to condone the information-sharing with foreign exchange traders from other banks by being aware of and conducting similar activity themselves, meant that it was unreasonable for Citibank to rely on a breach of their strict rules which protected clients’ confidential information as grounds for dismissing Mr Stimpson following on from his disclosures on chat rooms.
Employers should also ensure that all investigations are conducted thoroughly and adequately. Citibank had failed to use the evidence of the financial regulator’s investigation during the disciplinary process and this evidence was directly relevant to the reason for Mr Stimpson’s dismissal. When considering what was fair, the tribunal took into account not only what the dismissing officer knew when reaching his decision, but also what he reasonably should have known had there been a reasonable investigation.