Monday, April 2, 2018

Japanese bank MUFG sued in Tokyo, New York for ' wrongful sacking' of employees

Japanese bank MUFG sued in Tokyo, New York for ' wrongful sacking' of employees. (Reposted with permission from Walter Sim, reporter at The Straits Times)

TOKYO - Two former employees of Japan's Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) filed separate suits against the bank in New York and Tokyo for unlawful dismissal, which came after they each tried to seek recourse within the company for discrimination and harassment. According to court filings for both cases seen by The Sunday Times, the megabank is alleged to have subjected the two employees to "discriminatory and retaliatory treatment" for ostensibly failing to conform to traditional Japanese workplace etiquette.

Mr Shunsuke Fujii, who grew up in the United States, said in papers filed through his lawyers Bantle & Levy in New York on Friday (30/3) that he was berated by his ethnic Japanese superiors and colleagues for his inability to speak and write Japanese fluently, and was subjected to workplace "double standards". He raised the matter internally, but was accused of causing "problems" and dismissed on June 5 last year. And in Tokyo, Mr Glen Wood, a Canadian with two decades of experience in Japan's finance sector, accused the company of unfairly sidelining him with a demotion and hefty pay cut after he applied for leave to take care of his son, Alexander, when he was born in 2015. He lodged a civil complaint for what is known locally as 'paternity harassment', but the bank sacked him last month (Mar) despite the ongoing case. On Friday (30/3), he filed a suit for wrongful termination through his lawyers Yoshitaka Imaizumi and Daiki Enatsu. The cases against MUFG came amid growing global attention towards workplace harassment issues.

In New York, Mr Fujii joined MUFG Securities Americas' Japanese equities team in October 2014. According to court papers, Mr Fujii said he faced discrimination by his superior, Mr Masami Yamada, who is executive director and head of Japanese equity sales in the US, and other colleagues who are "predominantly citizens of Japan and ethnically Japanese (speaking Japanese as a first language and self-identifying as Japanese)". Despite English being the official working language, Mr Fujii pointed to e-mails and verbal communication being conveyed in Japanese. He also said that he was subject to "different standards of behaviour and performance" than his Japanese colleagues, who he said "committed numerous errors and often acted aggressively and inappropriately with impunity", but faced no consequences.

In one case in March 2016, Mr Fujii was accused of going behind the backs of two superiors, including Mr Yamada, when a client voted for him instead of them in a quarterly vote to rank brokers. His superiors accused him of covertly conspiring with the client and neglecting to share crucial information - charges which Mr Fujii denied.  4/1/2018 Japanese bank MUFG sued in Tokyo, New York for 'wrongful sacking' of employees. After that incident, his superiors "spoke in Japanese in front of Fujii in order to mock him and/or preventing him from understanding what they were discussing", the court papers said. Mr Yamada also "demanded an apology from Mr Fujii for disagreeing with him in front of other employees". In another case in May 2016, Mr Fujii was insulted by a colleague, Ms Maki Tanaka, as being namaiki (nonconforming and disrespectful) as a gaijin (foreigner) who only spoke English fluently, the court documents said. Mr Fujii also cited a case of Ms Tanaka calling another Japanese-American colleague bakayarou (stupid buffoon) and wakazou (arrogant young moron). When Mr Fujii said he wanted to raise the issue with human resources, Mr Yamada responded "in a threatening tone that there was nothing wrong with Tanaka's conduct and that if Fujii was not happy, he should leave the company". 

The papers added: "Yamada also threatened to fire Fujii if such 'incidents' continued."  Mr Fujii was later accused of behaviour that was "making some individuals feel uncomfortable", and despite asking for information about his colleagues' claims against him, was told to "just cut it out". He was dismissed on June 5 last year due to "streamlining and cost-cutting". According to the papers, Mr Fujii believed he was the only employee let go. An internal e-mail circulated among MUFG employees also said he was terminated due to "his problems". 

PATERNITY HARASSMENT In the other case, Mr Wood told The Sunday Times in an interview last November that his treatment by Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities was unjust. Under his watch as head of global sales, revenues doubled between 2012 and 2015 and the company grew its base of institutional investors. While the company has a childcare leave policy, its in-house policy rulebook said those applying for childcare leave must produce a Japanese document called a "maternity health record book" that is issued by a local municipality. But this was impossible to get as his partner had given birth in Nepal, where she had gone for work. When MUFJ rejected his application, he consulted experts and government offices, who told him that paternity leave should still be granted, and that if the company insisted, he could provide a DNA test as proof of paternity "This isn't about a foreigner trying to go against the Japanese system. I follow all the rules, my e-mails are in Japanese, I do everything in Japanese," he stressed. But despite five separate doctors certifying that Mr Wood was mentally healthy and should be allowed to return to work, including a test by a company doctor that MUFJ ordered in December, the bank continued to dither until it terminated his employment on March 9. 

His official last day is April 8. Among the reasons cited by MUFJ were Mr Wood's disclosure of "untrue harassment claims to the media", which in turn damaged the bank's reputation. He was also accused of submitting proprietary information to the courts". Mr Wood told ST that this was a clear example of the company trying to operate above the law, as it was "trying to circumvent the court ruling in making its own judgment". He added: "Documents were submitted to the courts for self-preservation as proof of harassment by the company. Clearly, without the submission of such documents, no harassment claims could ever be proven in a court of law."  MUFJ should not be allowed to "operate above the law", he said. "Japanese workplace culture has to move with the times, but many mega-corporations are still doing things that are no longer acceptable."

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