Ex-Swiss Re underwriter wins £1.3mn in sexual discrimination tribunal case

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A former Swiss Re underwriter whose senior manager made lewd comments about her body and speculated on her sex life has been awarded £1.3mn by a UK employment tribunal.

The payout ranks among the largest for sexual discrimination at a City company. It is another mark against London’s specialist insurance sector, where hundreds of people have reported sexual harassment in recent years in a male-dominated market, which has struggled to shake off a reputation for chauvinistic behaviour.

Julia Sommer, who worked in London as a political risk underwriter for the Zurich-based insurance and reinsurance group until she was made redundant two years ago, had her complaints for sex discrimination, maternity-related discrimination and sex-related harassment partly upheld by the tribunal, which found in her favour last year

Judges accepted that Robert Llewellyn, then global head of Swiss Re’s political risk and trade credit team, had told Sommer in 2017 “I bet you like to be on top in bed”, and “If I had breasts like yours I would be demanding too”. 

Llewellyn denied making these remarks, and alleged in return that Sommer had made derogatory comments about her relationship with her husband, including that she was looking for an “open relationship”. 

Sommer’s husband, who was representing her at the tribunal, called these allegations “false, inflammatory and scandalous”, and said that the couple had been trying to start a family at this time, according to tribunal filings.

Judges concluded that Llewellyn had “exaggerated” another statement made by the claimant about having an open personality into “an allegation which we found was meant to denigrate the claimant and undermine her evidence”.

The tribunal also decided that on another occasion — where Sommer was told to “shut up” and to take a “more submissive role” — she would not have faced the same treatment if she were male.

“The language was based on how he felt the claimant should behave as a junior female underwriter, he would not [have] had a similar view of a male underwriter,” the tribunal said. However, it also dismissed other claims of victimisation and unequal pay.

Swiss Re said it was “aware of this judgment, which is self-explanatory and which we have given careful consideration to”.

Llewellyn, who has since left Swiss Re, could not be contacted for comment. Sommer declined to comment.

Last year, a former BNP Paribas employee — who said she had a witch’s hat left on her desk after a night of heavy drinking — won £2mn after judges decided that the French bank had unfairly discriminated against her because of her gender.