I would like to think that the #MeToo movement signaled the end of the corporate practice of blaming victims of sexual harassment and letting misogynistic bosses off the hook. But we clearly still have a long way to go.
Ardith Lindsey, a rising star for 15 years at Citigroup’s Global Markets division, recently filed one of the most distressing workplace lawsuits I’ve read in a while, only days after an equally disturbing story in the Wall Street Journal detailing rampant sexual harassment at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), the regulator that makes sure your money is safe.
The FDIC is now the subject of a Senate investigation and lots of deserved media coverage.
In the Citi complaint, filed in Federal Court in Manhattan, striking evidence of shirked responsibility clearly demonstrates how companies continue to fail to protect their women employees. The Citi case is also an example of potential lawsuits to come under a new federal law that allows victims of sexual harassment to try their cases in court instead of being restricted to secret arbitrations.
According to the suit, Lindsey had been in a relationship for years with one of her supervisors, Mani Singh, then a managing director and one of the most senior global executives in equities at Citi. In October 2022, she broke off what she said had become a toxic situation.
The enraged Singh proceeded to threaten heinous acts against her and her children in hundreds of text messages and incessant phone calls. Here is a small sampling:
A terrified Lindsey took screenshots of the messages to human resources and Citi management. Citi says it put Singh on leave and began an investigation.
So far so good, as far as following best practices for corporate misconduct. But what followed is an example of the classic missteps companies continue to make when men start covering up for each other.
Before the bank could finish the investigation, Singh resigned, according to a Citi statement. At that point, Citi took several wrong turns, based on the lawsuit and Citi’s own statement.
First, Mr. Singh resigned with an announcement lacking even a hint of what Citi now describes as his “deplorable conduct.” In fact, his manager Tim Gately, the head of sales for the Americas, sent out a note to 150 staff, which he also read out loud, saying he was “sorry to see him go” and was “grateful to (for) the contributions he has made over the years.” He cited Mani’s strong leadership, and said it was “disappointing to lose someone like Mani.”
Given the clear evidence in the texts of Singh’s horrendous behavior, what would prompt Gately to send off Singh in a hail of accolades? Had Citi truly taken Lindsey’s accusations seriously, and had it given some thought to its image in this era of #MeToo, the announcement of his departure should have said he resigned over violations of the company’s code of conduct.
Washing his hands of any disciplinary action that could have hurt Singh in the future, Gately said the decision to leave had been Singh’s. It’s unclear if Singh received severance.
I don’t know all the details of the discussions between Lindsey, her lawyers and Citi that led to the lawsuit. Presumably there were negotiations for a settlement. But when the lawsuit hit the media, Citi committed public mistake #2 by putting out a disjointed statement that only worsens matters. On the one hand, Citi decried discrimination and harassment in the workplace and said employees should “feel confident they can raise concerns about themselves or others without fear of retribution.”
But then the company added:
“With regard to Mr. Singh, the conduct detailed in the complaint is deplorable, but the relationship Ms. Lindsey describes differs significantly from the accounts she previously provided to Citi. When questioned several years ago about a large financial transaction between them, Ms. Lindsey described Mr. Singh as only a friend and, last year, when she reported the vile text messages to us, she described the relationship as having been consensual. We immediately placed Mr. Singh on leave and began an investigation. Mr. Singh resigned within days, before the investigation could be completed.”
Maybe Singh WAS only a friend several years ago. Maybe the relationship was “consensual,” though we know it was tainted because he was her boss and had the power in the relationship. He regularly threatened retribution, and in her suit, Lindsey cites other examples of harassment of women that she alleges was going on at Citi.
A Citi spokesman declined to comment beyond the statement.
According to Lindsey, Citi had a habit of not listening. Her lawsuit says that in 2007 she reported being followed home after an office party by her manager at the time, who said he needed to use the bathroom and then refused to leave her apartment. She also said that she and other women at Citi complained regularly to HR about having to put up with men openly making comments about their breasts, ranking who they wanted to sleep with, and making jokes about the company’s sexual harassment training.
Lindsey is on medical leave and says in the suit that she is incapable of returning to work and requires intensive treatment to manage her symptoms. Her lawsuit is pending in federal court and seeks a jury trial to decide whether Citi violated New York State laws by allowing Singh to mistreat her.
It is always chilling to be reminded of the kind of anger some men feel towards women, anger that leads to the domestic violence, sexual assaults, and murders we read and hear about in the news. Violent actions and words are directed at women every day all over the world. And have been since the beginning of time.
We can at least hope that the third largest bank in the world could protect the women who work there. Lindsey’s suit alleges that it hasn’t, and is yet another indication that the gains of the #MeToo movement are only one victory in what promises to be a protracted struggle to end sexual harassment and discrimination.