I joined Citibank, N.A. on August 6th, 2006 in the wholly-owned branch of Citibank, N.A. in Sofia Bulgaria, where I worked as a Management Associate, Relationship Manager and Senior Relationship Manager in the period 2006-2010. Following top performance ratings within Citibank in Central & Eastern Europe, I was selected to take part in a 6-month rotation program at the EMEA Transaction Execution Group (EMEA TEG team) in London starting July, 2010 until December, 2010. After being recognized for my work by colleagues in the team as well as coverage partners across EMEA, I was offered to stay on a permanent contract as a Senior Associate starting December 1st, 2010.
During my time at Citibank, I was consistently rated as an outstanding performer - rated 1 (top 5%) in 2007-2009 and 2011 and rated 2 (top 25%) in 2010 and 2012. In 2011, I was rated a joint #1 performer in my class in Banking in the Western European Cluster.
I was a dedicated team player and received wide-spread recognition for my efforts in training junior bankers and assisting colleagues (e.g. Colleague of the Year Award in 2007). I also assumed the position of a Staffer of the EMEA TEG team from September, 2011 till February, 2012 and was consistently among the most active members of the team in delivering trainings to the Analyst & Associate pools across EMEA.
Disclaimer: Please note that the below is a personal account of some of the events as I remember them and that this is not an exhaustive list of all acts of discrimination, harassment, victimisation and life threats that I have experienced, while working at Citibank and by employees of Citibank. I would likely add more to this list once the Respondent provides me with access to my personal e-mail and all other documentation that I have requested without having received any response from them as of the date of this claim. Furthermore, the potential witnesses of these events (my Citibank colleagues) have been cut off from communicating with me, which severely limits my ability to provide a complete and full account of the events.
1) Temporary Housing Issues
Upon joining the EMEA TEG team in July, 2010, I was accommodated in a very small 1-bedroom apartment paid by Citibank for the duration of my 6-month rotation. Given that I have come to London with my spouse, Tatyana Mechkarova, and my then 3-year-old son, Nayden Mechkarov, I requested that I am placed in a bigger apartment that could accommodate my family. After I raised the request with HR and my first manager at Citi London - Mathieu Gelis, I was told by Mathieu that ‘In Western Europe, analysts and associates rarely have children, therefore Citi cannot pay for a bigger apartment for you even though having a child at the age of 28 may be considered normal in Bulgaria.’ My request for more adequate housing was subsequently turned down by HR.
Despite the personal disturbances caused by the above remark, I stayed in the team and performed at the top of my abilities, believing that I should prove to my manager that coming from a different culture that upholds family values did not necessarily translate into sub-par professional performance standards.
Two years later (2012), I was surprised to learn that another employee of the bank Amre Al-Nasri, who came to the EMEA TEG team for a similar 6-month secondment, was moved into a bigger apartment following identical complaints that his accommodation was inadequate (and despite the fact that he came to London on his own/without his family).
2) Working on Bond Transactions
During my first full year with the team (2011), I made a significant contribution by being the team-member who worked on most capital management transactions (over 100). In May, 2011 I raised a concern with the staffer of the team, Mia Montagna, that I was not working on sufficient number of bond transactions, which I considered to be more valuable from a developmental perspective. Despite my request, however, I continued to be assigned pre-dominantly to capital management deals. When I raised the issue for a second time with the staffer, I was summoned to the office of Mathieu Gelis and was told: ‘You are not working on bond transactions because of the nature of your background – coming from a small office like the one in Bulgaria does not mean that you are sufficiently qualified to represent the bank with external law firms and bond issuers.’
I insisted that I had the required background, highlighting my experience as a Senior Relationship Manager in Bulgaria and my track-record of managing important meetings, transactions and relationships with Senior Government officials as well as multi-national companies such as Shell and Lukoil. I was later told by the Staffer that the issue had been discussed and I would still not be able to work on important bond deals until I was at least ‘Vice President’, though there were more junior members of the team (including Analysts), who were assigned on a great number of bond transactions.
Soon after this episode the Staffer, Mia Montagna, left for another job with Citi, citing organizational problems with the team as one of the reasons. When the next appointed staffer, Maybel Saleh, was admitted to hospital due to clinical depression caused by stress in the work place, I became the most senior non-Director member of the team and I had to assume the position of a staffer. As a staffer, I was forced to assign to myself a number of challenging bond deals, primarily because this was a time of serious staffing crisis as 4-5 major members of the team (Victor Beckh, Mia Montagna, Maybel Saleh, Yoon Lee, Jay Katatumba) left the bank and/or the team, all of them citing stress and management pressure as one of the main reasons.
I then quickly became recognized for my bond execution work by both internal coverage and product partners as well as clients and external law firms and I subsequently became one of the leading bond execution specialists in the team.
3) Loan Transfer Charge Idea
On August 18th, 2011, I came up with a complex but extremely efficient and theoretically sound idea of how to improve the ‘Loan Transfer Charge’ methodology, which was causing a great deal of consternation and mis-understanding among Corporate Bankers and Product Partners world-wide. I described my new idea in detail to my manager Mathieu Gelis, who said that the idea was ‘good’ and he would discuss it among other Managing Directors.
On August 19th, I went to my long-planned vacation and, when I returned in the beginning of September, I had to immediately assume the position of a Staffer given the large number of people, who had left the team or had gone to sick leave. I was working for at least 15-16 hours a day, juggling various responsibilities among bonds, capital management, staffing duties and training new-comers who were replacing those who had left. This was the reason why I did not have any time to follow up with Mathieu Gelis on my Loan Transfer Charge idea.
In October, Mathieu summoned the team to an extraordinary team meeting, in which he announced that the New York Capital Management Team had made a decision to adopt a brand new ‘Loan Transfer Charge’ methodology. The methodology was described in detail and it was 90% similar to the idea that I had proposed only 2 months earlier.
I was very excited that my idea had been adopted globally and in a meeting asked Mathieu Gelis if I could work on the implementation project given that this was clearly my idea with only a small tweak. Mathieu Gelis then told me: ‘No! This was not your idea, yours was very different. This is all MD’s business and you should not be getting ahead of yourself!’
A more junior member of the team (Brian Magos) was then assigned to work on the implementation (directly by Mathieu, circumventing my Staffer responsibilities).
My name had never been mentioned internally in relation to the ‘Loan Transfer Charge’ methodology, which is used to-date by Citi in over 100 countries world-wide.
4) Organisational Problems with the EMEA Transaction Execution Group
In the period 2010-2012, there were multiple internal complaints by a number of employees with regard to the aggressive and stressful management techniques of Mathieu Gelis and Catherine Pierre. Please find below a summary of what I could remember being discussed, also in my capacity of a Staffer for a part of this period:
Victor Bekh , a Senior VP with the team and a banker with 10+ years of experience in Corporate Banking, Credit Risk Management and Capital Markets Origination, also an Ukrainian national, was harassed by Mathieu Gelis when they were working on a number of transactions in 2010-2011. Mathieu’s behaviour toward Victor was extraordinarily aggressive and similar to Mathieu’s approach towards me. I have also heard Mathieu Gelis speak in a condescending manner toward Victor and making jokes about ‘the Banker from Ukraine’ . As a result of this harassment and bullying, Victor Bekh complained verbally to many people, including myself. He also developed depression and insomnia, which led him to taking prescribed medication. At some point, he was not coming to work for a few weeks due to health issues. After coming back from sick leave, he started looking for another job in the Bank, which he found and moved to the Credit Risk Industrials team. Upon leaving the team, he sent an e-mail message to everyone in the team, saying that though he has worked in a number of stressful positions (incl. CMO), his experience in the TEG team was the worst in his life. Upon receiving this message, Mathieu Gelis said in front of a number of people in the team, including myself in relation to his message: ‘What a looser!!!’
Maybel Saleh, a junior VP, developed a depression condition in 2011, which required her to take an extended sick leave and go to psychotherapy. She also told me that she was frequently visiting the Citi Occupational Health Office. Her primary complaint was that the approach of Mathieu Gelis was ‘inhumane’. She said to me once that she wished that her boss will at least once say hello and smile to her, rather than yell and stress her out. She also complained about the structure of the team, which she believed was not adequate, but said that it was a much smaller problem compared to the pressure from the management team (Mathieu and Catherine), which she found unbearable.
Mia Montagna, a VP with the team, who assumed the position of a Staffer as of the beginning of 2011, made a number of formal complaints to Mathieu Gelis and was in an ‘all-out war’ with Catherine Pierre. Her primary complaint was that mixing bond execution transaction with capital management transaction increases the stress levels of the team members and results in sub-par quality of bond disclosure. She noted that by doing this, apart from putting undue pressure on the team, TEG is not able to perform one of its primary functions, which is to ensure high-quality bond execution and deliver public disclosure that is sound and adequate. This was a key mission of the team, given that it was TEG’s responsibility that the bond prospectus documentation is complete and full from a Credit Perspective before it is sent out to both institutional and retail investors.
Alastair Rose-Smith, a Senior Director with the EMEA TEG team, responsible for the bond execution process, made enormous efforts to set up a separate and dedicated bond execution team. I have personally heard him having noisy discussions with Mathieu Gelis in which Alastair was making the claim that working on bonds cannot be combined with working on capital management, given that the average timeline of a CM deal is about a few days, while most of the challenging bond transactions last for months. In his opinion, this led to severe stress problems for team members and exposed Citi to a number of risks, including not giving complete attention to the bond process, which was important from both reputational and regulatory perspectives. He was also giving as examples Citi in New York, Citi in Asia and Citi in Latin America as well as major competitor banks in London, all of which had clearly separated Bond Execution teams that were distinct from the Capital Management Teams.
In 2013 and 2014, there were 2 other members of the team, Paul Callaghan and Emrose Ahmed, who developed similar stress-related health problems and depression.
5) Staffer Position
In January, 2012, following 3 months of hard work as a Staffer, I was summoned to the office of Mathieu Gelis and was told that a decision had been made to replace me as a staffer. I was surprised and asked Mathieu what the reasons were for his decision.
Mathieu Gelis said that the new staffer (Oxana Sultanova) came from a bigger country (Russia) and could speak in Russian to the team in Citibank Moscow, while transactions from Bulgaria were too rare. Mathieu Gelis said that Oxana had ‘significantly more experience’ (though she had joined the team only a few months ago) and that I should focus on working on transactions with the rest of the team.
I made it clear that I did not agree with the decision because (i) I also speak Russian though it is not my native language; (ii) Everyone in the Moscow office speaks English, so there is no business logic/need for the TEG staffer to speak Russian.
I had no choice but to accept his decision as my protests were once again not taken seriously by Mathieu Gelis, who even made disparaging comments about ‘the kind of credits to grocery stores that are approved in E. Europe’.
In my opinion, the reason I was removed from the Staffer position is that by being a Staffer I could ensure that all members of the team receive an equal and fair work-load. Once I was not a Staffer, my work-load was determined by the new Staffer, Oxana Sultanova, who was hired by Mathieu and Catherine. This change of roles allowed Mathieu Gelis and Catherine Pierre to orchestrate the events of 2012-2014, which completely ruined my life.
6) Rush 2012
I believe that 2012 was the first of 3 years of utter nightmare, given that this was the moment when many of my former colleagues (in addition to Mathieu and Catherine Pierre, who was then a Deputy Head of the team) started behaving very aggressively against me.
I believe that this was a concerted effort, which was carefully thought-out by the management (Catherine and Mathieu) given that most of the colleagues in the team were hired very recently (in the last few months of 2011) by Catherine and Mathieu directly. Therefore, I think that they had incentivized the new members of the team to ‘help’ with my harassment.
The year started especially disturbing for me following my removal from the Staffer position without any rational explanation. Furthermore, there was a tradition that colleagues are given birthday cards and a small present on their birthday. My birthday (1st of February) was not recognized in 2012 and I did not receive anything (while everyone else in the team got a present, a cake and a card on their day).
The new staffer, Oxana Sultanova, started suddenly giving me disproportionately more work than anyone else in the team. I protested a number of times and often refused to take new work, although this was met with frowns, jokes and seemingly unrelated derogatory remarks by the Staffer and Mathieu/Catherine about my allegedly ‘lower-class pleb’ background (Catherine Pierre).
I was under a great deal of stress and had to work on average 15 hours a day and sometimes had to stay in the office without going home for the night. On one of these mornings, Catherine Pierre made a remark passing by my desk, saying: ‘Aren’t people taking showers in Bulgaria? ‘ , which was met with giggles and laughter by the wider team.
In August, 2012, a new round of redundancies was announced at Citibank in London. I was surprised to hear Catherine Pierre saying loudly in the office with regard to the announcement: ‘It is time to get rid of the Gypsies in the office’ (My understanding of the remark was related to the fact that there is a large Gypsy (Roma) population based in Bulgaria, many of whom, following Bulgaria’s entry to the EU, had moved to France, UK and other Western European countries).
Given that my wife was starting her Master’s Degree at this point of time and I was the only breadwinner at home, I was deeply concerned about Catherine’s remark in relation to the upcoming redundancy wave.
In December 2012, there was a second redundancy wave. The day before the redundancy took place, Paul Callaghan said to me and Alastair Rose-Smith that ‘we will soon have an inverted pyramid in the team!’ (Referring to the fact that, at this point, the team consisted of 3 Directors, 2 VPs and 2 Associates, including me – i.e. obviously 1 of the Associates was supposed to be dismissed to complete the inverted pyramid).
Despite all of the above offensive remarks, bullying and harassment, I kept working as hard as I could and survived all redundancy waves.
2013 started in the same way as 2012 in terms of disproportionate work-load regardless of my protests. In late-February, I was sent to Ukraine for a business trip to cover the management due diligence of a very challenging and complex Emerging Market Bond Issue.
Following my return, I was shocked to understand that Catherine Pierre (who was made a Co-Head of the team following the departure of Mathieu Gelis for a Senior role at Citibank, N.A. in Paris) had launched a wide-spread internal tarnishing campaign against Christopher Blin, a Senior Director who had recently joined TEG as a Co-Head of the team along with Catherine Pierre. She had a meeting with every non-Analyst member of the team (Associate or above), warning us of Christopher’s lack of experience with the team and alleged ‘inability to manage people and make executive decisions’. Mathieu Gelis, who continued to come from Paris to his office in London once a week, retaining ‘Senior Supervisory’ functions within the EMEA TEG team, deliberately sidelined Christopher Blin on a number of visible transactions by taking the initiative on specific deals directly with Senior Approvers in London/New York and, therefore, circumventing Christopher.
In the beginning of March, I had serious doubts if I could continue working in this atmosphere, which I found extremely harmful and very unhealthy. I asked for a meeting with Mathieu Gelis through his Personal Assistant, which we had at 11 am on the 7th of March, 2013. I told him that I ‘surrender’ and that I could not take all of this anymore and that something needed to change as I found the atmosphere in the team completely unbearable and deeply offensive. I asked him to assist me in finding a less-stressful job within the bank and his precise words were: ‘You need to deal with your s**t first!’ .
I tried to explain to him that my issues were not personal but professional, that I had been given an enormous amount of work, which was disproportionate to the work of any other member of the team, and this was now continuing for more than one year. Apart from a very confusing and unproductive meeting with a Citi Occupational Health Officer who asked me self-contradicting questions, there was no further action by Mathieu or anyone else in Citi.
On April 19th, 2013, my body could not survive the continuing stress and I was admitted to hospital following severe abdominal pains. The condition developed at around 11 am, while I was on my desk at work and I immediately reported to the Citi Health Care Centre on the 36th floor of the building. While waiting for a doctor to see me, I lost consciousness for a few minutes. After the health team administered first-aid, they called an ambulance which took me to the Royal London Hospital, where I spent the day in severe pains despite the pain-killers that the doctors administered. My doctors in the hospital were unsure as to the reasons for the condition, but they said that such conditions are often caused by severe workplace stress.
Unfortunately for me, this was not the end of my pains but only the beginning.
8) Sick Leave (19th of April, 2013 till July 10th, 2013)
After going home from hospital, I called Mathieu Gelis, who said that I should speak to Catherine Pierre on this matter going forward, given that she was now the ‘major’ Co-head of the team. He said that I should not be talking to Christopher Blin as he was the less-experienced Co-Head of the team and Catherine was a lot better-connected and in a better position to assist me.
I called Catherine and we arranged a meeting (in the beginning of May, 2013), not in Citi but in Brera, one of the cafes outside of Citi. She said that I should keep ‘away from the Bank’ for as long as possible. She said that I should not worry about my job and that there were many other jobs in the Bank and outside of Citi and I would surely be given a choice once I was ‘out’ [presumably of the situation that I was in].
We had a follow up meeting late-May (in another café outside of Citi – Nero). She threatened me saying that I should not speak with anyone about what had happened and that ‘the health and safety of you and your family should be more important than career ambitions’. She said that ‘accidents do happen’ but as long as I kept everything confidential, nothing else would happen to me. Catherine said that I should be patient and wait for Mathieu and her to help, which they were to do once they were convinced in my ‘ability to keep matters confidential as a Senior Banker would do’. Furthermore, she said that what happened to me was a ‘lesson’ that was, in her opinion, ‘valuable’ and one that I would be able to use in my career and when I get to a role of managing people.
She said that I should meet with Citi Occupational Health and make sure they were given sufficient reasons to pro-long my sick leave by ‘at least a few more months’, so that I have time to ‘think everything through carefully’. I met with Citi Occupational Health and told them I was not feeling well, so my sick leave was pro-longed.
Our next meeting was in July, 2013 in which I expressed a desire to come back to Citi but in a different team and in a less-stressful work environment. Catherine was furious and said that any team I join would ‘rotate you out’ of the bank. She said that I should remember how I felt in the hospital and that ‘working in Banking could be dangerous if you do not carefully listen to what people are implying…’
On July 9th, 2013, I called Mathieu Gelis over the phone as he was in Paris and asked him directly if I could find a better work environment that would not stress me out so much and his precise words were ‘I cannot promise anything’.
This was the moment when I had to consider my options very carefully – I felt quite uncertain as to what to do given that I believed that I could continue in another team as I knew that there are a lot more acceptable work environments but I was not ready to fight with Mathieu and Catherine. If they could kick out so many people out of the team and go unpunished, then I thought they could be powerful enough to prevent me from joining any team. I remembered Catherine’s words that safety and family were more important than career and I was scared that if I insisted on coming back to Citi she would do her best to prove her words to me. I remembered the nightmare of 2012/2013 and how I asked for help in March, 2013 but nothing happened and how I went to hospital. Was this episode of severe pain and loss of consciousness only a coincidence or was it the ‘lesson’ that I should keep my head down as Catherine implied?
On July 10th, 2013 I had another meeting with Catherine, in which she said that I should ‘enjoy my life as anything could happen… For example, you could be run down by a bus tomorrow…’ She said that if I ‘prove your patience’ and ability to keep things confidential, I would surely be given a choice to join other banks, because ‘this is how everything around you works’. As long as I was patient and silent, everything would work fine, I was assured – ‘you should not worry’.
She also said that I should ‘put this one to bed’ and should carefully consider if I wanted to continue ‘sticking to’ my wife in my situation, given that, in her opinion, my wife was an impediment to my integration in the ‘wider society’.
On the basis of everything that had happened to me and given all these discussions, I simply could not find the courage to insist on coming back. I called Julie-Anne Cooke-Yarborough from HR and asked that I leave as soon as possible. She said that it was possible to ask for a voluntary redundancy package given that they were still reducing headcount and I said that I would like to ask for one.
9) Signing the Settlement Contract (11th of July, 2013 till September 30th, 2013)
My next meeting with Catherine was on Friday, August 1st, 2013 (again in the Brera Café). She looked very happy and said that I had made the right decision. She said that HR is waiting for my 7th anniversary with the bank (August 6th, 2013), so that I was compensated for 7 years of service.
In mid-August, I called Mathieu Gelis (who was again in Paris). I told him about my decision and he reminded me that I should be patient before starting to look for a job and should rather wait for ‘people to get in touch with me’. When I asked him what type of job might be safe for me, he said that it would likely be a job with ‘a tier-2 or tier-3 bank, probably an Asian bank, which is culturally more suitable for you and, if in London, it would not be client-facing but rather middle office or back office’. He also said that in light of my background, I may be asked to move back to Bulgaria or any other ‘similar’ country. I promised to wait and assured him that I was going to keep our discussion confidential.
I continued waiting but there was no news from Citi. I called Catherine on the 2nd of September and she said that they were working on the contract but it had to be approved by New York, so I should be patient. She threatened me to keep silent about everything that had happened to me and not to do anything until I hear from her or Mathieu. She said that she had very powerful friends who could crash me and make it look like an accident. She said that my best course of action was to ‘take whatever you are given by HR’, keep silent and wait ‘at least 9 months’ before starting to look for another job and to wait for her and Mathieu to provide advice on next steps.
The waiting continued and I was quite scared because of the uncertainty. I could not possibly explain it to myself - why was Catherine delaying this?
I finally received a call from HR on the 23th of September (though I did NOT receive a draft agreement up until the afternoon of the 26th of September), in which she said that they were still considering my request and they are thinking of September 30th as my last day with the bank, however, I should have a meeting with Citi Occupational Health before that. I said that I was scared to come back to Citi for a meeting and that I would like to proceed without it. She insisted that this was ‘non-negotiable’. I had my meeting with Ocupational Health on the 25th of September. I was asked some, I assume, standard questions about me and my health. I confirmed that I had not had any health problems following the food poisoning episode and I confirmed that I could not come back as I did not consider my job to be a healthy work environment.
HR gave me the settlement contract on Thursday afternoon, September 26th and said that I must consult with one of 3 law firm that were ‘approved’ by HR so that I receive an ‘independent’ advice. The contract should be delivered signed by the following Monday, otherwise, there would be no deal.
The last sentence of this agreement said ‘The offer set out in this letter shall lapse on Friday 27th September, 2013 if the terms have not been accepted by you in the manner required before then.’ I then signed the agreement with a date 26.09.2013 (the date on which I received it in the afternoon).
I started calling the law firms but they did not have any appointment timeslots for Friday, 27th September, 2013.
One of them, however, offered a timeslot on Monday, September 30th around noon (Speechley Bircham LLP). I confirmed it, and went in their office with the previously signed contract at noon, September 30th
The meeting lasted 15 minutes and I was only answering with yes/no to the list of questions that Christopher Bushnell read to me. I brought the signed contract with me, so he only briefly looked at it and said that it was standard and he had looked at many similar contracts from Citi. He said that, in his experience, Citi were rarely making exceptions to their standard agreements. I did not have time to change anything and did not feel in a position to negotiate anything given the threats of Catherine Pierre, while I did not want to miss the deadline.
The lawyer made a photo copy of the previously signed contract (with the date 26.09.2013 under my signature and the condition that the terms must be accepted by me by the 27th clearly stated on the signature page). He then signed the agreement, with the date 30.09.2013 under his signature, confirming that he had provided an ‘independent’ advice.
Citibank, N.A. has paid directly £500 to the law firm for the ‘independent’ advice, a rate that I am now confident that is significantly above market for a short meeting with a non-partner (on the basis of my personal experience with employment law firms in the City of London, non-partners charge anything between £150-£250 per hour, a rate that is more than 50% lower than what Citi paid Speechley Bircham LLP).
The contract was signed on behalf of Citi on Oct. 8th by Sonnal Shah, an HR executive who I had only met once in my career and who never spoke to me since the beginning of my sick leave.
I did not collect any of my personal belongings from the office and did not send a goodbye e-mail (as it was the custom for all leaving employees at Citi), despite having had close multi-year professional relationships with hundreds of Banking, Capital Markets, Risk and Legal employees across numerous countries in EMEA.
Christopher Blin subsequently told me that he left his position of a Co-Head in the EMEA TEG team in the middle of September, 2013, after it became clear to him that he was misled by Mathieu Gelis. When joining a year earlier, he was told by Mathieu Gelis that Catherine would was planning to move back to Leveraged Finance and Christopher would be appointed as a sole head of the team. He said that it became clear to him that Catherine had never had any intentions to change teams, so he decided to move to a role with the Trade Finance team, which he did in September.
In my opinion, the only possible explanation for the delay of presenting me with the contract, apart from not giving me an opportunity to negotiate the written agreement to comply with the verbal threats, was that, in his capacity of a Co-Head, Christopher Blin would have had to approve my departure. Once he left the team, Catherine Pierre was the only business person who needed to approve my resignation as the sole Head of the EMEA TEG team.
10) Waiting For Help (October, 2013 – June, 2014)
I was under a state of shock and stress, lost a lot of weight (from 90 kg when I joined the EMEA TEG team in 2010 to 62 kg in the end of March, 2014) and simply could not find enough courage to initiate any actions. After being a proud non-smoker for 6 years (having quit in 2006 and not smoking a single cigarette till 2012), I started smoking in 2012 following the beginning of the concerted harassment and bullying campaign, which one of the most stressful events in my life till then. As of the date of this claim, I am still struggling with stress-related conditions (insomnia, nicotine-addiction, depression symptoms).
I could not reconcile what had happened with my actions or what I had done. If Catherine could be so brutal on the job, she would surely have had reasons for that, I thought. I knew that she came from a very wealthy family in France, lived in a mansion house in Fulham, so the only thing that I could deduce is that she really had friends that were a lot more powerful than anyone I knew. I lived in my small apartment in East London and felt powerless against her threats.
No words can fully describe the effect this had on my self-esteem and feelings. I felt like I am completely incapable of starting any new job, I thought there was something deeply wrong with me and believed that my Bulgarian background would be an impediment to finding another job in the City. My only choice was to wait for Catherine and Mathieu. They had promised to help me find a middle/back office job in a 2nd/3rd – tier bank. As long as it could pay my bills, I was fine with this and would have surely accepted it, had they called.
I closed myself and did not speak with anyone but my wife and son. I avoided all contact and even stopped meeting with many friends that I had previously.
My wife, Tatyana, was extremely worried about my condition but, having told her everything that had happened, she agreed that the safest course of action was to keep silent and wait. We honestly could not believe that we could fight with such people.
She finished her Master’s Degree in PR in December, 2013 and started taking entry-level internships with PR agencies in the City in the period February-June, 2014.
11) Tatyana’s Sickness (June, 2014 – August, 2014)
Tatyana had always been very committed, helpful and understanding. She was with me in the hospital and bared the terrible accounts I was giving her about what was happening to me at Citi and the threats I received from my managers.
In the middle of June, 2014, however, her health started deteriorating. She started having severe back-pains that prevented her from continuing her career. The health problems, according to her doctors, were caused by stress. Her psychological condition deteriorated soon after and she got in a deep depression. At the peak of her pain, she could not walk, so I had to assume full responsibility for taking care of her and our son.
In the meantime, remembering that the 9-month period that Catherine asked for had now expired, I tried to get in touch and ask for her help in June and July. She did not return any of my calls.
I did not know what to do and, given that, at this point, I had to stay at home and take care of Tatyana and my son, I decided that, despite our deteriorating bank balance and poor financial condition, I should wait until Tatyana gets even a little better before asking for work.
We started going to doctors in London but NHS services were very slow given that her condition was not considered ‘emergency’, while her physical pain, in combination with her depression, required immediate attention. Once she started approaching private doctors, the medical invoices started piling up and given that we no longer had medical insurance following my forced removal from Citibank, we had to come back to Bulgaria in end-July, where we spent 4 weeks going through various doctors. They prescribed some medications that alleviated the pain and we returned to London in end-August with the hope that I would talk to Catherine and see if I could be given what I was promised in terms of career options, while Tatyana continued her recovery.
12) Seeking Employment (August, 2014 – December, 2014)
We came back in end-August and I called Catherine. She agreed to meet me in the same place (Brera). I gave her an account of what had happened and the poor condition that my family was in, both financially and health-wise. I asked for help but she said that before asking for help from her and Mathieu, I should start looking for a job myself. Her precise words were: ‘You should now start looking for a job if you can and, if not, there are always options, including the black market’. I asked if I could meet with my former colleagues and ask for ideas as to what may be available in the job market. She reminded me that what happened was to remain confidential and that this was ‘your part of the deal’. She promised to ‘ask around at Citi’ if there were any open positions, though she said it may not be a good idea for me to come back as headcount reductions were still on-going and my ‘background’ would be a disadvantage.
In September, I met with some former colleagues (Christopher Blin, Brian Magos, Victor Bekh, Emrose Ahmed) without giving them any precise detail as to what happened following my sudden departure, keeping my ‘part of the deal’, the primary purpose of those meeting was to talk to people with regard to potential job opportunities.
When I started applying for jobs with financial institutions and recruitment firms, I realized that I was played by her once again. Everyone was asking: ‘What have you done for 1 year? Why didn’t you start earlier?’. I told them that I was a top-performer at Citi, but as one recruiter put it, ‘top-performers very rarely leave due to headcount reductions and stay without a job for years…’ The recruiters said that putting my CV forward would represent a risk, given that any employer would question the reliability of my top-performing track-record in light of my health history and the extended absence from the workforce. I realized that coming back to a similarly-paid position at a top-tier bank was no longer possible and, as of the date of this claim, I am only seriously considered for positions paying at most 25% less than my Citi salary and, mostly, in tier-2 and tier-3 institutions and non-client-facing roles and, even despite all of these concessions, I am still unable to find a job.
I started calling her in October and after a lot of delays she finally agreed to meet with me on November 3rd. At this point I was financially crashed – I told her that I cannot take this anymore and I need her help. She asked me about how much I had on my bank account and she said: ‘You have enough for now, once this runs out, things would be different because you may be sitting on a pile of cash.’ I pleaded for her help and told her that I am happy to take ANY job that she could make available to me. She said that I should prove my trust-worthiness, keep my part of the deal and be patient, so that I ensure the safety of myself and my family. Catherine also said that it may be easier for me to fit in in an Eastern culture (giving me Japan as an example) or in a country in Central and Eastern Europe.
I was in a very poor condition in this meeting and even cried in despair given my situation. She did not seem to be particularly moved and told me in detail about the time she had during her recent vacation in Abu Dhabi and how impressed she was with the fact that ‘everyone’ had so many servants (housekeepers, child-minders, cleaners) in their homes.
13). Launching Internal Investigation (November, 2014 - Present)
During the month of November, 2014, I had to consider my options once again very carefully, following a discussion with my wife, in which we agreed that if I had kept ‘my part of the deal’ by following Catherine’s instructions and threats despite the dramatic effect they had on our life, it was more than reasonable to ask that Catherine should keep their part of the deal too and help me with finding the job that I was promised by her and Mathieu.
I also asked family and friends for financial help, which helped us to keep paying our rent and covering our expenses. I also looked at my Citibank pension savings account, which had some savings that I thought I could withdraw to alleviate my condition. Therefore, I decided to call Catherine and see if she could help me with this administrative matter. She consistently did not respond to any of my calls and numerous messages.
I tried calling Julie-Anna Cookey-Yarborough from HR and left numerous voicemails and e-mail messages, to which no one responded.
On November 26th, I decided that I cannot wait anymore and sent a formal message to Catherine Pierre and HR asking for assistance, which I then forwarded to James Bardrick, Citigroup Country Officer for the UK and David Walker, Corporate Bank Head for the UK as they were the most senior people I knew at Citi in London.
I also called some of my former colleagues at Citi (Maybel Saleh, Brian Magos, Christopher Blin) asking for help with these matters and requesting their assistance.
On November 28th, I received an angry call from Catherine Pierre, in which she threatened me: ‘Regardless of what has happened, you must keep this confidential. You should not share this with your colleagues or anyone else!!’ I told her that I have no other choice but to ask people for help. She reverted: ‘We are going to keep this confidential!’
We met one last time, on December the 1st, again in the café Brera. I again pleaded for her help and reminded her of her promises and the events of the past. She said: ‘You should stop talking to people about this.’ I told her that I am going to do anything that I could to defend my rights and that, though I personally did not want to create any problems to anyone, my managers at Citi had ruined my life and I have no choice but to take action.
On December 2nd, I was contacted by Citi’s Internal Investigation Unit, who had launched an enquiry into my situation.
On December 8th, I met with Amin Panu, Senior Investigator in Citi’s Internal Investigation Unit. In a 1-hour meeting, I gave him a thorough account of the events surrounding my departure from Citi. He promised to investigate internally but said that I must NOT contact Catherine Pierre or Mathieu Gelis in the meantime. He mentioned that HR had launched a separate investigation and they would be in touch with me.
On January 5th, having had no further contacts from Citi, I called Amin Panu and sent him an e-mail asking who I should speak to at Citi.
Furthermore, I tried to call some of my former colleagues (Emrose Ahmed and Sorin Zaicovici) asking for a meeting. None of my calls were returned.
On January 6th, I started looking for legal advice into the matter and launched an ACAS request on the same date.
On January 20th, I received a confirmation from ACAS that Citibank is refusing to discuss the matter with me and would prefer to proceed to the ET.
On January 25th/26th, I sent to Citibank a formal request for personal information (e-mails, documentation, etc) and the statutory discrimination questionnaire.
As of the date of this claim, I have not had any further communication from Citi and I feel that I have been cut off from communicating with my former colleagues, which I find unfair and extremely disturbing. By prohibiting Citi employees from talking to me, Citi had disconnected me from the great majority of my professional network at the moment, where I need it most.
Whatever Citibank had told those employees (including some of the most junior ones with whom I have always had cordial and friendly relationship), Citi had already severely and irreparably tarnished my professional and personal reputation.
I have spent 7 years of my life dedicated to my job, I was one of the top-performing employees of Citibank in EMEA and I do not deserve to be treated in this manner regardless of my cultural and national differences, my marital status, personal background, socioeconomic status or the hostile political rhetoric against my ethnic group in the media and by high-profile nationalist politicians.
14). Motives of Citibank Managers
In my opinion, there 2 motives/reasons, which clearly explain the behaviour of Mathieu Gelis and Catherine Pierre and what they have done to me:
One of the main reasons, in my opinion, is their genuine desire to sideline and inhibit potential competitors for the limited roles of Managing Directors / Code 1 staff at Citi. I would have been a real competitive threat to them if I had maintained my performance, including but not limited to, my top performance ratings (which are determined by an independent commission of reviewers - primarily MDs from across EMEA), if I had continued presenting the efficient structural ideas that I was regularly putting forward (e.g. LTC charge methodology) and if I had continued to receive the high words of praise for my work from other MDs as well as, primarily, from clients of the bank.
This was extremely irritating and highly dangerous for them, especially for Catherine Pierre, who was recently promoted to a Director position. Had I maintained my performance and hard work, I would have surely been promoted to Director in 2016 and possibly to Managing Director in a few years’ time and I would have been in direct competition with her for the limited number of high-paid roles of senior managers with direct business development or functional responsibilities.
Both Catherine and Mathieu are extremely ambitious. They were ready to do anything to achieve their goals and they knew that they had to stop me as early as possible in my career, so that they remove me as a potential threat to their ambitions.
This was the reason why they behaved so aggressively with other employees of the team as described above. However, in my case, they went so far, primarily because of the fact that I was constantly recognized as a ‘super-star’ within Banking in EMEA and also because they were very confident that they could easily get away with it given my Bulgarian origin, my poor socio-economic background and lack of high-profile connections.
Catherine knew very well that if I had come back following the accident in April, 2013, I may have had the chance to recover and go to some other team in Banking and I would still have been a significant threat to her in only a few years’ time. This is why she tried to delay me as much as possible, knowing that the more time I spend outside of the workforce, the more difficult it is going to be for me to come back in a strong role or position.
The second reason is more subtle. They were able to orchestrate such a wide-spread campaign against me because of my Bulgarian origin. They could easily convince the new-joiners of the team that ‘the Bulgarian’ is getting ahead of himself (as Mathieu told me directly). The hostile political rhetoric in the media and by nationalist politicians against Bulgarian immigrants both in France and the UK helped them, given that the mainstream media is one-sided and often times outright racist and discriminatory against Bulgarians.
What angered them even more was that, despite their efforts in crushing me down in 2012, I still managed to keep up my performance at an excellent level (top 25% in 2012). This is when they started losing their temper and often times attacked me directly and publicly on the basis of my Bulgarian origin and nationality (as described above).
They were genuinely irritated that someone coming from Bulgaria with experience in allegedly ‘the kind of credits to grocery stores that are approved in Eastern Europe’ could maintain his performance and moral standards despite the subversive and concerted attack that they organised against me.
That’s why, once I fell down and was admitted to hospital, they did not stop pushing me and manipulating me into further ruining my life and my career. Their prejudiced minds allowed them to sincerely believe that this was something they would easily get away with, given that they were dealing with a poor Eastern European immigrant who had limited contacts and constrained resources. If I were British, French, German or American, they would have never gone so far.
29 January 2015