A proposed collective action alleges Phyton Talent Advisors and Societe Generale Americas have failed to pay proper wages and discriminated against an ex-employee who claims to have been fired in retaliation for his complaints of SocGen’s insufficient monitoring of client news as required by two federal banking laws.
According to the 12-page lawsuit, Phyton, a Manhattan-based talent recruitment agency and payroll services provider, contracts with clients such as SocGen, who manages the American affairs of the multinational French bank Societe Generale. The plaintiff worked for the defendants at SocGen as a subject matter expert in negative news from June 2017 until the end of 2020, the suit says.
Per the complaint, SocGen failed to pay the plaintiff and similarly situated employees proper overtime wages, and terminated the plaintiff’s employment after he vocalized on more than one occasion concerns that SocGen workers abroad were failing to properly monitor relevant client news stories for illegal conduct.
“Plaintiff engaged in protected activity under CEPA [the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act] when he complained to his superiors about failure to adhere to proper [Bank Secrecy Act] and [Anti-Money Laundering Act] protocols,” the suit says. “Defendants’ termination of Plaintiff constitutes illegal retaliation for plaintiff’s protected activity under CEPA.”
Throughout his employment as a Know Your Customer Quality Assurance Analyst, the plaintiff was responsible for reviewing negative news, compiled through software referred to as DDIQ, about SocGen’s clients in order to detect possible money laundering and/or other illegal activity, the case says. According to the suit, banks are required under the federal Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) to have controls in place and provide requisite notices to law enforcement to deter and detect money laundering, terrorist financing and other criminal acts, and the plaintiff’s work was part of this process.
The lawsuit claims the plaintiff worked at least 50 hours per week yet did not receive one-and-one-half times his regular hourly rate of pay for overtime. Per the case, the plaintiff was informed at the outset of his employment with the defendants that the expected workday covered by his $700 per day salary was an eight-hour workday. Like the plaintiff, many others hired through Phyton to work for SocGen worked “significant overtime” without receiving proper overtime premiums, the suit alleges.
“Upon information and belief, all individuals employed through Phyton were, like Plaintiff, paid a daily rate, without any additional premiums for overtime,” the suit says. “Defendants committed the foregoing acts willfully.”
According to the complaint, about 30 to 40 individuals worked as consultants in SocGen’s Know Your Customer Review department through Phyton or similar agencies. The plaintiff, an Orthodox Jewish man, says in the suit that about half of these individuals were subsequently promoted and hired directly by SocGen and entitled to all of the benefits of being regular employees with the company. The plaintiff, who was brought on by Phyton, received more limited benefits, the suit relays, alleging that the three to four other Orthodox Jewish consultants at SocGen were ultimately not hired directly by the company.
The lawsuit says the plaintiff’s performance at SocGen was “stellar,” and that the man was never the subject of formal criticism related to his work performance. Per the case, the plaintiff “gained a significant amount of expertise as a subject matter expert” during his years with SocGen, and was the senior member of a team of negative news reviewers at the end of 2019. Despite the plaintiff’s standing, SocGen, the suit claims, simply renewed his contract for 2020 and did not offer the man any direct employment or promotion in title.
The lawsuit alleges that SocGen’s failure to extend an offer of direct employment to the plaintiff or any other Orthodox Jewish employee amounts to discrimination:
“Given the high quality of Plaintiff’s work and the increased reliance on him for substantive and supervisory work, SocGen’s failure to extend Plaintiff an offer of direct employment and/or promotion in title, despite having done so for so many other consultants, was clearly discriminatory. SocGen extracted as much work as they could from the visibly Orthodox Jews on the team but did not allow them to join the ranks of the regular SocGen employees.”
The lawsuit goes on to state that the plaintiff complained during his employment about several items he said did not adhere to the requirements of SocGen’s BSA and AMLA compliance programs. Through the years, the plaintiff, the case says, complained that SocGen’s due diligence software, DDIQ, automatically filtered out significant news information about the company’s worldwide clients that should certainly have been reviewed by those in the plaintiff’s position:
“Specifically, SocGen set its DDIQ system to ‘auto-adjudicate’ certain negative news items as ‘immaterial’ because of ‘location mismatches.’ However, the ‘mismatches’ were extremely overbroad because SocGen’s clients typically did business in many locations. This overbreadth caused SocGen not to review/escalate large amounts of information it should have reviewed pursuant to the relevant federal statutes.”
The suit alleges that although each of the plaintiff’s supervisors “pretended to be concerned” when the man addressed the issue, SocGen “in fact did nothing to correct the overbroad auto-adjudication,” and the plaintiff went on raising the issue with his superiors until the end of his employment.
According to the complaint, SocGen, toward the end of the plaintiff’s employment, “became heavily reliant on individuals in Chennai, India” as far as reviewing negative news. The plaintiff, in reviewing the work of those in Chennai, “noticed that they often failed to fully grasp the relevance of certain news items, presumably as a result of the density of the news content and the non-native nature of those individuals’ English comprehension,” the lawsuit says. Per the suit, the plaintiff found this to be particularly concerning as it often resulted in SocGen filtering out relevant news items instead of properly reviewing and/or escalating them as required by law.
In early 2020, SocGen, the suit says, formally put a stop to the plaintiff’s documentation of his quality assurance findings and review of the Chennai office’s work.
“Defendants stated they were doing so because the issues that Plaintiff raised were too ‘sensitive,’” the lawsuit reads. “Instead, Defendants had Level reviews documented by the Chennai office, the very office that Plaintiff had complained failed to spot and escalate issues.”
The plaintiff’s supervisor, on one occasion last year, made clear his displeasure with the man, stating that he was, according to the suit, “always coming up with problems, we need you to find solutions.” The complaint says the plaintiff was informed on December 24 that his contract would not be renewed for 2021 “because they were winding down the use of US consultants.”
According to the case, however, SocGen’s explanation does not add up, as the entire “negative news team” had at most six U.S. employees, at least three of which, like the plaintiff, were brought on through third-party staffing agencies but were subsequently offered permanent employment with SocGen. During 2020, the plaintiff was one of only two individuals working on negative news in the U.S., the suit says. “Thus the entire ‘offloading’ of US consultants for negative news work involved terminating Plaintiff,” according to the complaint.
“Given plaintiff’s excellent work, evidenced by his moving up the ranks of responsibility during the duration of his employment, it is clear that Defendants terminated Plaintiff in retaliation for his complaint about inadequate monitoring under the BLSA and AMLA,” the lawsuit alleges.
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