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CIBC

Fernando Morales

A London investment banker who was dismissed by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce at the age of 42 has won an unusual age discrimination case.

The high-profile case centres around Achim Beck, a German citizen who worked in derivatives marketing for a number of banks before being hired as head of marketing for CIBC's commodity structured products division in 2007.

The basic salary for the role was £125,000 ($207,300 Canadian), but Mr. Beck was guaranteed a minimum bonus of £775,000 his first year.

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After the credit crisis hit, and CIBC was stung by exposure to other complicated investment products, the bank restructured his division and Mr. Beck lost his job in May of 2008.

The bank said that the position was being eliminated, however, the panel agreed with Mr. Beck's claim that CIBC was rehiring and looking for a "younger" candidate.

The British Employment Tribunal said it initially thought it unlikely that a manager in his mid-thirties would try to dismiss someone who was about six years older.

"These were professionals and in the banking world where age and seniority frequently do not go hand in hand, just as age and the willingness to push back also do not necessarily go hand in hand," the Tribunal wrote in its ruling.

But when the bank went to recruit a head of European derivatives marketing it sent a job description to a head-hunting firm that included the line: "seeking younger, entrepreneurial profile (not a headline profile rainmaker)."

And the Tribunal castigated senior executives at CIBC for using a "sham" process. (A spokesman for CIBC declined to comment Tuesday, saying the bank is still reviewing the decision).

When Mr. Beck appealed his dismissal to the bank, alleging it was common knowledge that headhunters had already been asked to look for replacements for himself and his colleagues, the bank's Toronto-based head of fixed income sent an e-mail to a couple of people at CIBC World Markets saying: "Further to our discussion this morning I am not sure why we would negotiate any unfair dismissal … as far as I am aware we restructured the IRD sales marketing desk and have not rehired nor do we have any current plans to do so."

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One of the colleagues replied: "Sorry I missed the beginning … did he forget we are rehiring." To which the head of fixed income replied: "We have no plans to hire I will call u now."

The Tribunal said in its ruling that the e-mail exchange "demonstrates a culture amongst senior management of being willing to cover up the true picture."

CIBC's legal department sent Mr. Beck a letter saying his role was genuinely redundant, that the bank would not be hiring equivalent employees in the foreseeable future, and laid out criteria that were used to evaluate the marketing team.

"The Tribunal was shocked by this letter which demonstrates a complete disregard for the truth. It is apparent from this letter that senior executives at the bank were complicit in what was essentially a sham process …" the ruling said, and called Mr. Beck's dismissal "unfair."

But it also tossed out another claim by Mr. Beck, under the British Race Relations Act, that he was discriminated against on the basis of his nationality and that CIBC looked after its Canadian employees whose positions were eliminated.

The Tribunal will rule on the "remedy" in the new year.

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