Seems like BNP Paribas can’t catch a compliance break lately. Still reeling from a massive penalty stemming from violations of U.S. economic sanctions on Cuba, Iran, and Sudan, the French banking giant lost a motion to dismiss in U.S. federal court in an anti-discrimination case. As Michigan employment lawyer Jason Shinn says on his blog:
“It is never a good idea to use Hitler, Nazis, or swastikas in your mandatory company seminars.”
Yet that is exact what BNP Paribas did. BNP Paribas won part of their motion for summary judgment because it was time barred (a federal hostile work environment claim) but the judge allowed the case to proceed with respect to the retaliatory discharge claims brought under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and various claims arising under New York law.
There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest, Elie Weisel
We wrote about this case in June 2014. “If BNP Paribas survives this mess, and they will, [the Nazi video is a small part of it], they best take the corporate engine for a compliance and corporate culture overhaul. The company appears to be in need of new leadership,” I wrote then.
In this particular case, a former BNP Paribas employee who happened to be Jewish complained about a training video using images of Adolf Hitler adapted from the movie, Downfall. The video portrayed Hitler as the CEO of a competitor bank. The employee and plaintiff, Jean Marc Orlando, who happened to have also lost his father during World War II, complained several times to his colleagues and asked them to stop using it. They refused and threatened him to shut up about the matter.
Despite solid job performance, Orlando was demoted, his pay cut, essentially ostracized from the organization and, eventually, shown the door. According to Orlando, and others persons, the video seems to be just a manifestation of a more serious issue at BNP Paribas: a culture of anti-Semitism. According to court records, Orlando testified at his deposition that his colleagues made a number of anti-Semitic comments during his tenure at BNP Paribas.
What will come of all this? As I said last year, they should take a close and hard look at the very top. The company seems in need of a fulsome compliance culture overhaul. The U.S. Congress may also want to take a another look …