Bank of Montreal takes swift action on discriminatory complaints

Sunira Chaudhri

Sunira Chaudhri

Toronto Employment Lawyer

By falling on its sword, BMO signals the bank's internal image is as important as its external image.

When major institutions take steps to remove half a dozen employees, there’s reason to take notice – especially when they are high-ranking mining executives.


Late last week, the Globe and Mail reported that the Bank of Montreal terminated four mining bankers, while another two resigned following allegations relating to the bullying and harassment of a colleague.


The alleged victim is a young male investment banker in the mining group. It is alleged he was subject to homophobic slurs both in person and virtually on the bank’s Microsoft Teams platform. While the bank was light on details, it confirmed that a serious incident took place and that an internal probe occurred.


“An investigation was launched immediately,” the bank confirmed. “Six individuals are no longer with the bank.”


Alan Tannenbaum, CEO and group head, BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a note to staff: “Any inappropriate behaviour that undermines our culture and reputation will not be tolerated. The consequences are serious and broad reaching.”


It is relatively rare for employers to move swiftly in the face of discriminatory complaints. Employers are usually advised against acknowledging discrimination to protect their own obvious interests and to defend against potential liability.


In many organizations, investigations, no matter how seemingly robust, rarely appear to uncover conduct that is incongruent with the organization’s mandate.


It has long been the stereotype of financial organizations, in particular, to insulate top performers, and to protect the rainmakers. Traditionally, marquis executives are not held to the same code of conduct of the rank-and-file. It isn’t fair, but it’s what employment lawyers see year after year.


Employees that grow business and retain relationships with clients often bring with them big personalities. While those personalities come with costs and consequences, financial institutions usually are prepared to absorb the associated risks.


But that isn’t the case in this story. This is a story where BMO has fallen on its sword. It’s a signal that the internal image of the bank, the image projected to employees, is as important as the external image that is carefully curated to clients and the public.


It is also a signal that senior executives will not simply ‘grin and bear it’ any longer. Toxic workplaces will be outed even by those who silently committed to shroud organizational dysfunction with absolute secrecy.


There will likely be some legal action that ensues as a result of these far reaching steps that BMO has taken. After all, the alleged victim should not have been subject to such a working environment.


While we know few public details, a judge may be hard-pressed to throw the book at the bank on this occasion. It investigated, it identified the source of dysfunction, and rooted it out.


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The content of this article is general information only and is not legal advice.

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