London branch employee sues UOB for race discrimination

UOB employee Daniel Smith, who worked at the bank's London branch, said a manager told him that a candidate from South-east Asia was a better "fit" for a role.
UOB employee Daniel Smith, who worked at the bank's London branch, said a manager told him that a candidate from South-east Asia was a better "fit" for a role.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - A former official at United Overseas Bank's London branch is suing for unfair dismissal after saying he was denied a new job because he is not Asian.

Mr Daniel Smith, who worked at Singapore's third largest bank for 23 years, said a manager told him that a candidate from South-east Asia was a better "fit" for a role. Mr Smith said the minutes of the meeting were later altered when he questioned the comments, and he lost his position shortly afterwards.

"To have been overlooked for an alternative role, and discriminated in the way I was, is such a big let-down, given everything I had given to the bank over what has been most of my adult working life," Mr Smith said in a court filing.

In British employment cases, an award is capped at around £84,000 (S$147,000) unless workers can show discrimination or that they were blowing the whistle on improper actions. UOB's lawyer said that Mr Smith was "kicking up dust" to get a larger payout, and that the other candidate was simply better qualified.

Mr Smith, who was a senior officer in the bank's treasury business, was initially asked to apply for new roles, as the London branch ceased to offer clearing services. He said that the general manager, Mr Andy Cheah, told him that he had been unsuccessful because the bank had found an Asian candidate "who would fit into UOB well". 

While Mr Cheah acknowledged that he had used the "descriptive" term that the candidate was Asian, he said "her race and nationality has absolutely nothing to do with her selection".

Under cross examination from Mr Smith's lawyer, Mr Cheah said he wanted "to mentally prepare" Mr Smith for the fact that the candidate would be working alongside him in a small office. "With hindsight, it wasn't a great idea," he said.

A spokesman for UOB declined to comment.

Mr Smith said UOB changed the minutes of the meeting that originally described how the candidate needed to "fit into UOB, which had a strong Asian influence" to read that the candidate needed an "ability to fit into UOB's banking culture".

Mr Smith, who worked at UOB from 1993 to 2017, said he felt that he "wasn't good enough just because I was not South-east Asian".