City executive wins £75,000 payout from London trading company

City executive, 37, wins £75,000 payout after her boss told her ‘women should stay at home and cook’ and his firm tried to force her out of her more than £100,000-a-year-role

  • London firm ActivTrades was found guilty of unfair dismissal and victimisation
  • Lana Sinelnikova was suspended for taking a work trip to Dubai while off sick
  • The company felt she obstructed deals by flagging potential legal concerns
  • Bosses tried to force her out and used the trip as ‘leverage’ to fire her, panel told

A senior female City executive told by her boss ‘women should stay at home and cook’ has won a £75,000 payout.

Lana Sinelnikova had accused chief executive Alex Pusco of sex discrimination and blew the whistle on alleged improper financial practices at the foreign exchange trading company he founded.

The 37-year-old – who earned more than £100,000 – claimed he also showed staff at ActivTrades a ‘degrading’ picture of a woman wearing skimpy clothing posing with a car while declaring that ‘sex sells’.

A tribunal heard Ms Sinelnikova had been suspended from her role as Head of Compliance for gross misconduct for taking a work trip to Dubai with a senior colleague she was in a relationship with, while she was off sick.

But the panel concluded that the firm – which believed she obstructed deals by flagging potential legal concerns – had been trying to force her out and used the trip as ‘leverage’ to fire her.

ActivTrades was found guilty of unfair dismissal and victimisation.

Lana Sinelnikova, pictured, won a £75,000 payout after her former employer was found guilty of victimising her after she accused them of sex discrimination and blew the whistle on what she believed were potentially criminal practices at the firm

When she complained about her treatment, the company – which made £11 million profit in 2018 – embarked on a campaign of ‘concerted and malicious action’ against her, the tribunal heard.

This included giving false information about her to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), wrongly claiming she had committed a criminal offence and threatening to take her to the High Court.

It accused her of improperly using her work computer to run an eBay trading account. The company also refused to give back her personal data, including details about her divorce.

The tribunal found the firm guilty of victimising Miss Sinelnikova after she accused them of sex discrimination and blew the whistle on what she believed were potentially criminal practices at the firm.

The hearing, in East London, was told Ms Sinelnikova had joined the London-based trading firm in 2011.

At the time of her complaint, she said she was the only senior female manager working there.

The tribunal heard her role was to make sure the company’s financial dealings were legal and to raise Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) if she had concerns.

However, the tribunal heard that by 2017 there was growing frustration with her among senior management that she was obstructing deals by flagging up potential regulatory breaches.

In November of that year – despite being absent from work due to illness – Ms Sinelnikova travelled to Dubai with the firm’s Compliance Director, Jon Friend, with whom she was in a relationship, to help carry out a risk assessment of the company’s office there.

The company then used the trip as an excuse to get rid of her, the tribunal concluded, by claiming it was unauthorised.

ActivTrades’ London office, pictured, where 37-year-old Ms Sinelnikova worked for the firm

‘(AtivTrades) was looking to force (her) from the business at this time…as a result (it) was looking for a reason why (she) should leave the business,’ the tribunal judgement found. ‘It jumped to the conclusion that she had committed gross misconduct.’

In December 2017, Ms Sinelnikova issued a grievance against the company – later sent to the FCA – accusing them of sex discrimination and potential criminal offences relating to their compliance with financial conduct laws.

In her complaint, she recalled an incident at the firm’s Bulgarian office when ‘Mr Pusco stated that ‘women should stay at home and cook’, in the context of complaining about the length of maternity leave in Bulgaria.’

She also alleged that in 2017, ‘Mr Pusco displayed an image of an advertisement by Aston Martin for pre-owned cars. The advert contains a woman wearing limited clothing in a particular pose.

‘On showing this advert to (Ms Sinelnikova) and others at the London Office, Mr Pusco stated that the (firm’s) marketing needed to be ‘sexy’ and that sex sells.’

The tribunal found the advert to be ‘insulting, offensive, and degrading to women’.

It said that Ms Sinelnikova had raised concerns about potential criminal conduct and sex discrimination in good faith, believing the disclosures to be in the public interest.

She resigned in February 2018 and the company then went to great lengths to try to stop her pursuing the claims, the tribunal found.

This included refusing to give her back personal data from her work computer account – including details of her divorce.

‘Because of those disclosures…(ActivTrades) sought to use the retention of such sensitive personal data as a tool against (Ms Sinelnikova), as leverage to try to push her into not pursuing any form of claim against it,’ the tribunal found.

In March 2018 the firm wrote her a legal letter accusing her of ‘spending a significant amount of time running her eBay account from her work computer during working hours’.

It also claimed she had stored illegal music files on her PC. Both accusations were found to be baseless by the panel.

Finding the firm guilty of unfair dismissal and victimisation, the tribunal said it had ‘gone out of its way…to try to irreparably damage her career for raising matters of public interest and sex discrimination.

‘(We) found that the treatment by (ActivTrades) had caused a very high level of injury to her feelings which had been sustained over a long period time, by concerted and malicious action.

‘The injury to (her) feelings had had a profound effect on almost every aspect of her life.’

Ms Sinelnikova was awarded a total of £76,510 in compensation, including £40,000 damages for injury to feelings.

ActivTrades were also ordered to pay a £5,000 financial penalty – the maximum available – for repeated breaches of employment law.

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