Ruling finds former political risk underwriter was unfairly dismissed and subjected to sex discrimination

Swiss Re has lost an employment tribunal, reports the Financial Times. Julia Sommer, who worked in London as a political risk underwriter for Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, was made redundant in April 2021 and sued the firm for sex discrimination, maternity-related discrimination and sex-related harassment.

The Central London Employment Tribunal ruled that she was unfairly dismissed and upheld complaints of direct sex discrimination, sex-related harassment and maternity-related discrimination.

Sommer was employed at Swiss Re from June 2017 until she was made redundant months after she returned from maternity leave in July 2020. She alleged in her tribunal claim that she was subject to sexist comments by Zurich-based senior manager Robert Llewellyn, then global head of the political risk and trade credit team.

Sex-related harassment

According to the ruling, Llewellyn told her at a work drinks event in December 2017: “If I had breasts like yours, I would be demanding too” and “I bet you like to be on top in bed”.

A three-judge panel led by employment judge Mark Emery found that his comments were “sexist, demeaning and derogatory but an attempted joke nonetheless — which went badly wrong and should never have been made”.

The tribunal also upheld complaints by Sommer that in January 2019 Llewellyn “sharply and aggressively” dismissed her attempts to offer feedback in a meeting and that in February 2019, Llewellyn shouted at her to “shut up” on a conference call.

The tribunal concluded it was an act of direct sex discrimination as he would not have snapped at a male colleague in a similar way. In another meeting, Llewellyn asked Sommer to take a “more submissive role”.

The tribunal found that a decision had been taken by senior managers that Sommer would be removed from the business and its implementation had been delayed because Llewellyn did not want to run a dismissal process during the claimant’s maternity leave.

Llewellyn no longer worked for Swiss Re after an internal restructuring, the company said.

Swiss Re said it was giving the tribunal’s conclusions “full and careful consideration”, adding, “Swiss Re does not tolerate discrimination of any kind and is committed to providing an equal and inclusive workplace for all employees.”

Is sexism culturally ingrained?

In May, Aviva’s chief executive Amanda Blanc opened up about the sexism she has experienced in the insurance industry, saying it had gotten worse the more senior she became.

It follows the company’s annual general meeting (AGM), during which Blanc and other female board members were subjected to sexist remarks.

And in March, Lloyd’s issued a Notice of Censure and its biggest-ever fine in response to misconduct that took place at Atrium, a managing agent in the Lloyd’s market.

The inappropriate behaviour included heavy drinking among some male managers, initiation games and inappropriate sexual remarks about female staff. 

Lloyd’s said the size of the fine imposed by the Lloyd’s Enforcement Board “reflects both how unacceptable these circumstances were, and the seriousness with which Lloyd’s is treating this issue”.