Exec wins £32,000 payout after her boss commented on her breasts

Exec wins £32,000 payout after her boss commented on her breasts

May 25, 2023

Female financier wins £32,000 sex harassment payout after her Davos high-flyer boss demoted her, said women get ‘frantic and unpredictable’ during their periods and commented on size of her breasts

  •  Jolanda Niccolini won her claim against asset manager Algebris Investments
  • Her boss, Davide Serra, made ‘wholly inappropriate’ comments, a tribunal heard 

A high-flying executive has won £32,000 after her Davos attending boss made comments about the size of her breasts before demoting her from her job at a prestigious City firm. 

Jolanda Niccolini was told she needed to ‘remain rational’ and avoid being overtaken by ‘a hormone tempest’ by her boss, Davide Serra, who claimed women get ‘frantic and unpredictable during their periods’.

The married CEO, who leads multi-billion-pound asset manager Algebris Investments, also made ‘wholly inappropriate’ comments, including about the size of Ms Niccolini’s breasts, while hosting clients at his French chalet.

The dual British and Italian citizen, who attended Davos earlier this year, also told clients Ms Niccolini would do anything for them, ‘including prostitute herself’, an employment tribunal heard. 

Ms Niccolini, Head of Business Development and Investor Relations at Algebris – who received bonuses worth more than £2.3 million over a six year period – was made redundant following a dispute about her performance and management style.

Algebris Investments CEO Davide Serra (pictured) made ‘wholly inappropriate’ comments and commented on the size of Jolanda Niccolini’s breasts

Now, she has been awarded more than £32,000 in compensation after successfully suing Mr Serra’s firm Algebris for sexual harassment and victimisation.

The hearing, in central London, was told Italian national Ms Niccolini started working for the global asset management firm in 2013. She was based in Milan but later moved to the company’s London office.

The single mother had known 52-year-old founder Davide Serra since attending the prestigious Bocconi University in Milan, before joining his company as a director, focusing on investor relations and business development.

Ms Niccolini and Mr Serra were ‘very good friends’, the tribunal heard, but were known to be ‘impulsive and volatile and might speak frankly to each other’.

The tribunal heard he was prone to making ‘wholly inappropriate’ remarks and had previously had to apologise to her.

‘On more than one occasion while hosting clients at his chalet in Chamonix, Mr Serra made a comment about the size of [her] breasts,’ the tribunal found.

‘He once said it was best to have men presenting to large audiences of financial advisers as they were mainly male audiences and said more than once that there were meetings where he had to go to by himself as they were to discuss things amongst men.

‘In 2016 Mr Serra made a comment to clients that [she] would do anything for them ‘including prostitute herself’.

‘[She] was furious and made that clear. Mr Serra sent her flowers by way of an apology after this incident.’

Jolanda Niccolini (pictured) won a £32,000 payout after launching a sexual harrasment claim against multi-billion-pound asset manager Algebris Investments

The tribunal heard that in meetings Mr Serra would comment to female colleagues about dresses they wore being smart or ‘you look elegant today’, rather than concentrating on their work.

At the same time, the tribunal heard Ms Niccolini had once emailed Mr Serra saying, ‘I’m on top – the way I like it’ and had concluded a presentation using a photo in which he held a foam roller in a ‘phallic innuendo’.

The tribunal heard that in 2018 the company won the Employer of the Year award at the Italy Women in Finance Awards, and referenced its ‘strong commitment to equal opportunities’ in an acceptance speech.

Around that time, Ms Niccolini’s relationship with her boss began to deteriorate over her performance and a disagreement over her management style, the tribunal heard.

The hearing was told there were complaints she had been ‘micromanaging’ her team and had several ongoing disputes with.

Mr Serra was critical of her decision to appoint a manager of Indian descent to cover Switzerland, describing him as a ‘bad hire’ and saying to her: ‘How could you think of sending an Indian guy to Switzerland where they are even more racist than Germans?’

In October 2019 at a breakfast meeting in Milan, Mr Serra was ‘very critical’ of her and told her she was being demoted.

Accusing her of being rude to him earlier in the year, ‘He said that he knew women could be ‘frantic and unpredictable during their periods’,’ the tribunal heard.

Ms Niccolini then went off sick with stress and anxiety.

In December of that year, Mr Serra met her again to ask if she was going to accept the demotion or leave the company.

‘At the end of the meeting Mr Serra said he needed to know what [she] wanted to do by early January and that she should remain rational because he had seen how she reacted when overtaken by ‘a hormone tempest.’

‘[She] understood this to be a reference back to when she was pregnant in 2012 and decided to separate from her daughter’s father which Mr Serra had thought was irrational.

‘She understood this to mean that if she did not accept the demotion it would be because of irrationality caused by her female hormones.

‘Mr Serra’s view was that [she] would be getting the same money for a smaller role, and that her pride was preventing her making a rational decision.’

Davide Serra (pictured in Davos) attended the World Economic Forum earlier this year 

While still off sick, Ms Niccolini launched a grievance over Mr Serra’s remarks and her demotion. 

This led to the CEO being made to take an online 30 minute multiple choice ‘equality, diversity and inclusion’ training course, which the tribunal described as ‘lip service’.

The tribunal heard that after being diagnosed with breast cancer Ms Niccolini was signed off work repeatedly for a total of more than 18 months.

In July 2021 she informed the firm she was ready to return to work. However, she was informed she was at risk of redundancy and in December of that year was told she had lost her job.

The tribunal concluded Ms Niccolini had been the victim of sexual harassment and victimisation and awarded her £32,831.94 in compensation.

‘Mr Serra’s comments that he had seen how Ms Niccolini reacted when overtaken by a hormone tempest were unacceptable comments which had the effect of both violating her dignity creating a humiliating and offensive environment for her,’ it said.

‘They were related to her sex. They amounted to harassment.’

However, the tribunal rejected her claim that she had been sexually discriminated against by being demoted.

‘Mr Serra’s actions were based on his genuine perception that [she] was not performing in her role and were not influenced by the fact that she was a woman,’ it said.

Ms Niccolini’s other claims relating to whistleblowing, disability discrimination and indirect sex discrimination also failed.

Mr Serra is described on his company’s website as a dual Italian and British citizen who is recognised as ‘one of the world’s leading experts on financial services’ who is often consulted ‘by the world’s central bankers and regulators on policy matters’.

The former professional volleyball player has been awarded the Commendatore designation, a decoration of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.

He is Chairman and Trustee of the Hakuna Matata foundation, a charity which he founded with his wife Anna, focused on assisting orphaned children in central Tanzania.

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