‘Oversensitive’ female city banker who sued bosses for £800,000 after colleagues called her ‘little sister’ and asked her to babysit LOSES sexual discrimination case

  • Zhuofang Wei sued the London branch of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce
  • She lost her £800k sexual harassment case after male boss asked her to babysit
  • Judge branded Ms Lee, earned £175k a year, as ‘oversensitive’ and ‘unreliable’
  • The bank had ‘elements’ that were ‘degrading’ to women but ruled ‘office banter’

‘Oversensitive’ city banking executive Zhuofang Wei (pictured) lost her case against the London branch of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce for £800,000, after claiming she was victim of discrimination

An ‘oversensitive’ female city banking executive who complained after her male boss jokingly asked her to babysit for him has lost a sexual harassment case.

High-flying Zhuofang Wei tried to sue the London branch of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce for £800,000, claiming she was victim of discrimination.

At an employment tribunal the ‘highly regarded’ executive complained about an office ‘quote book’ in which amusing sexually suggestive comments were recorded and then voted on at Christmas parties – with the winner being awarded a trophy.

However, this complaint was dismissed after Ms Wei, who earned £175,000 a year, admitted she had joined and the tribunal ruled that was a ‘willing participant’.

Ms Wei, who was educated at top US universities Princeton and Stanford, also insisted she had been ‘belittled’ when boss Wayne Lee called her his ‘little sister’.

She complained that Mr Lee, a managing director at the bank, was being ‘tokenistic’ when he nominated her for an important role.

And she alleged he had discriminated against her by asking her to babysit, moaned about him reprimanding her, and complained that he was ‘dismissive’ of her when he disagreed with her at a meeting.

But a judge dismissed all her discrimination claims, branding her ‘oversensitive’ and an ‘unreliable witness’ who sometimes ’embellished or distorted the truth’.

Although Ms Wei was found to have been sexually harassed when colleagues called her a ‘ladette’ and ‘one of the boys’ she won’t receive compensation as the panel concluded she had brought the claim too late.

Ms Wei complained that Mr Lee, a managing director at the London branch of CIBC (pictured), was being ‘tokenistic’ when he nominated her for an important role

She was also found to have been victimised by CIBC by having her redundancy date brought forward 11 days and will receive some compensation for that.

The central London tribunal heard that Ms Wei, known as Fang by colleagues, had started working for the bank in April 2018 having previously had roles at Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse.

The hearing was told there were ‘elements’ of CIBC’s branch in London which were ‘degrading’ to women but these were ‘office banter and loose language’.

One female worker at CIBC described an ‘old schoolboy environment where there was a lot of banter’.

For example, for a decade, chief administrative officer Paul Atkinson kept a ‘quote book’ with his team, in which amusing sexually suggestive comments were noted down.

It was heard there was a running joke about an assistant whose skirt blew up at a social do to reveal she wasn’t wearing underwear and during a Christmas game Keith White, chief risk officer, said his assistant was the person ‘most likely to have a one-night stand’.

Chinese Ms Wei, who has degrees from Princeton and Stanford in the USA, complained about the quote book when she brought her case to the tribunal but admitted she had joined in.

Ms Wei insisted she only took part to ‘fit in’ – however the tribunal found she was a ‘willing participant’ who saw it as ‘lighthearted fun’ and even continued to put quotes in about one woman who openly felt ‘bullied’ by it.

The book is no longer used by the branch, with staff admitting it is ‘inappropriate’.

Ms Wei, Executive Director in the Strategic Planning and Business Management team, claimed Mr Lee suggested she babysit for him on three times which Ms Wei felt offended by.

She also accused him of ‘looking down’ on Chinese people and when he nominated her as Master of Ceremonies at a work event she claimed the role was ‘tokenistic’.

She also accused another boss of telling her not to wear a ‘figure-hugging dress’ as he ‘needed to focus’.

But these claims were rejected by the tribunal which found that Mr Lee had been joking about the babysitting and had been genuinely supportive of her.

The dress comments were never made, the panel concluded.

The tribunal heard Ms Wei’s dismissal from the bank in March 2020 came after she went for a new role in a planned Luxembourg office after Brexit but was not offered a pay rise she thought she deserved.

Ms Wei, who was due to combine the roles of chief operating officer and chief risk officer, ‘naively’ believed she would be receiving a combined sum of two salaries ‘in the region of €450,000’.

However, she was not offered an increase on her £175,000 salary as that, along with her £72,000 bonus she received, was in line with market rates.

She refused the job offer in early 2020 and as she had been preparing for it for months, her London job was redundant and she was made redundant in March 2020.

However, she threatened legal action against the bank and bosses brought her redundancy date forward by 11 days.

Employment Judge Holly Stout ruled that Ms Wei’s claims of racial and sexual discrimination were without merit, however she was victimised by the redundancy change.

‘The Tribunal found Ms Wei in a number of respects to be an unreliable witness as there were a number of aspects of her evidence that embellish or distort the truth’, the judge said.

‘We have in mind in particular how she exaggerated her evidence about the quote book.’

Ms Wei, who was due to combine the roles of chief operating officer and chief risk officer, at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in London ‘naively’ believed she would be receiving a combined sum of two salaries ‘in the region of €450,000’. Pictured: A CIBCO building in Toronto, the capital of the province Ontario in Canada

Judge Stout added: ‘We consider that there were elements of the [bank’s] culture that were discriminatory towards and/or degrading of women, but that these elements were confined to “office banter” or “loose language” rather than being symptomatic of any general culture of less favourable treatment of women.

‘We further find that Mr Lee did not in general have a discriminatory attitude towards Chinese women.’

It was heard Ms Wei was harassed when colleagues referred to her as a ‘ladette’ and ‘one of the boys’ in relation to her attending social activities, however this claim was too late so she won’t get compensated.

Judge Stout added: ‘This harassment is an example, in our judgement, of what we have termed ‘loose language’, by which we mean poorly chosen and stereotypical language that was well-intentioned.

‘They should have chosen their words more carefully, and by not doing so they caused offence.’

Ms Wei – whose LinkedIn profile states she is a governor at the University of Derby – will receive compensation for victimisation at a later date.

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