Sacked former Societe Generale woman of the year loses €5m lawsuit

Zeina Bignier was dismissed after colleagues accused her of being a disrespectful control-freak and her demands were thrown out by a Paris court

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Societe Generale is pictured outside the headquarters of the French bank at the financial and business district of La Defense at Puteaux near Paris, outside Paris, France, May 16, 2018.  REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo
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An executive who was voted woman of the year at Societe Generale lost a lawsuit where she was seeking €5.2 million ($5.8 million).

Zeina Bignier was dismissed after colleagues accused her of being a disrespectful control-freak and her bosses decided she was unfit for her management role. Ms Bignier’s demands were dismissed by judges at the Paris employment tribunal on Thursday.

Ms Bignier says she was harassed by her managers and compliance officers and then fired out of the blue in 2016. The former SocGen executive argues she’s still suffering from burnout three years after her dismissal.

A 21-year-employee at the Paris-based bank, Ms Bignier was named Woman of the Year in 2006. In the early 2000s, she set up and led a unit focusing on public-sector origination and worked on restructuring the Greek debt.

Representatives for SocGen declined to immediately comment on the ruling. Valerie Meimoun-Hayat, a lawyer for Ms Bignier, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. A court official read out the result of the ruling on the phone but the full details won’t be available for weeks.

At a hearing in her unfair dismissal case last month, SocGen lawyer Arnaud Chaulet began by admitting that Ms Bignier was a strong performer. But he said concerns about her management style had existed for a long time and intensified in the months before she was fired.

Specifically, one junior colleague alleged she called him a “dimwit” in front of others and, on another occasion, yelled at him during a meeting to prevent him from sharing his views, according to Chaulet. The SocGen lawyer said Ms Bignier also had problems with higher-ups, and at one point told her boss that “you lack courage”.

Ms Bignier’s lawyer acknowledged her client had a “headstrong personality” but said the accusations were based on hearsay.

“During a 21-year-career, when there’s tremendous stress, an outburst can occur,” Ms Meimoun-Hayat said during the March hearing. “You have to understand the environment in which Ms Bignier is accused of controlling her teams too much.”

Ms Meimoun-Hayat said the stress of the job became worse as the banking industry became more focused on compliance after financial disasters such as the record loss caused by rogue trader Jerome Kerviel.

“This is the Kafkaesque world of intense pressure from compliance,” Ms Meimoun-Hayat said.