Employers have been urged to closely watch a landmark £5m unfair dismissal claim against HSBC under sexual orientation discrimination rules, as it is expected to set a far-reaching legal precedent.
Peter Lewis, the former global head of equity trading at the bank, was dismissed from his £1m-a-year job in February 2005 for “gross personal misconduct”.
HSBC launched an investigation after one of Lewis’s colleagues alleged that he had performed a lewd act and looked at him while they were at the bank’s gym in November 2004. The company decided that the disputed glance constituted sexual harassment.
In one of the first cases to come before a tribunal under the new sex discrimination legislation – extended in December 2003 to protect gays and lesbians – Lewis is arguing that he is the victim of homophobic prejudice.
“I knew in my heart of hearts that I had been sacked because I was gay,” he said.
Mark Hunt, head of employment at law firm Reed Smith, said the case should be used as a benchmark for HR departments.
“This claim highlights the need for all employers, regardless of sector, to adopt transparent policies and procedures that comply with equal opportunity legal requirements, and to apply them equally to all employees,” he said.
Guy Guinan, employment partner at law firm Halliwells, said HSBC could be forced to pay out vast sums of compensation. “There is no limit on the amount of compensation, and an additional sum will be awarded to represent injury to feelings,” he added.
HSBC said it would “vigorously defend” itself against the claims during the tribunal in Stratford, east London, which is expected to finish on Friday.