Former ABN Amro lawyer sues bank for racial discrimination

A former ABN Amro Group senior lawyer has brought a £300,000 case against the bank after claiming she was racially harassed and hounded out of her job.

The Dutch banking giant’s former UK lawyer Angela Cobbina has turned to Withers partner Emma Sanderson for her case against UK ABN Amro chief executive Paul Schuilwerve.

Cobbina claims she was “frozen out” of her job and is seeking damages for racial discrimination and unfair dismissal. She alleges she was subject to a campaign of racial abuse by Schuilwerve, claiming he said he “could not see her” in photos and emphasised the word “black” when talking to her.

Cobbina also alleges that she was targeted due to the colour of her skin and argues that Schuilwerve’s bullying and intimidation during her pregnancy led to her miscarriage on 30 January 2013. The former SJ Berwin partner was employed by ABN Amro for four years and was the only black member of its UK executive committee.

Sanderson instructed No5 Chambers’ Jack Feeny to represent Cobbina at the Central London Employment Tribunal hearing yesterday (4 March 2014).

ABN Amro has turned to Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe head of employment Nicola Whiteley, instructing Matrix Chambers’ Thomas Kibling.

The tribunal heard that Schuilwerve strongly denied allegations of racism but admitted to supporting the controversial Dutch tradition of ‘Black Pete’ involving white people ‘blacking up’ and parading through the streets.

Cobbina said she had been subject to numerous incidents of racial abuse starting the first time she met her line manager in September 2012. During the meeting he allegedly looked at a colour picture of the lawyer and said “we cannot even see you in the picture”. She claims he taunted her about her race after one of their colleagues described himself as the “black sheep of the family”.

The tribunal heard that the executive had allegedly said: ”Speaking of that, what about Blackfriars? Let’s talk about all things black. Is Blackfriars the same as Blackadder?”

The bank denies Cobbina’s claims and argues that she was made redundant as part of a necessary reshuffle. The bank’s legal team has been through a volatile period following its £49bn acquisition by Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) – a deal cited as one of the factors that led to RBS’s £45bn bailout in October 2008.

Following the takeover over the bank lost several of its senior lawyers including chief counsel Eva Simon Thomas and corporate chief counsel Penelope Simmons.

An ABN Amro spokesperson said: “It is always regrettable when there is a need to undergo a reorganisation with resultant redundancies. Ms Cobbina has made serious and groundless allegations against ABN Amro and some of its senior managers.

”While we do not welcome the publicity associated with such litigation, we believe an important principle is at stake and that we are required to defend the litigation. ABN Amro is committed to diversity across its global operations and at every level of the organisation. We are confident that this will be the judgement of the Employment Tribunal and that these claims will be dismissed.”