Prominent hedge fund investor Davide Serra was prone to making sexist remarks and harassed a close colleague, a London employment tribunal has found.
Serra, CEO and founder of Algebris Investments, made “wholly inappropriate comments” to Jolanda Niccolini, senior executive in charge of investor relations and business development at Algebris, the court found.
Serra told Niccolini he knows women can be frantic and unpredictable when on their period, shortly after he was demoted in 2019. He then warned her not to be overtaken by ‘a hormonal storm’ .
The comments were unacceptable and sexist and constituted unlawful harassment, the court heard. He said Niccolini’s departure was also mishandled.
Niccolini was awarded about $40,000 in total, including about $33,000 for emotional harm. There was no compensation for financial loss.
The court said it accepts that Serra commented on Niccolini’s breast size more than once while he was hosting clients at his chalet in Chamonix, France. He said he also accepted that Serra said he had to go to some meetings alone to discuss things between men and that men should present to a large audience of financial advisers since they were mostly men.
But he dismissed Niccolini’s claim that the demotion had to do with being a woman and not concerns about her job performance.
A spokesperson for Algebris said: “Algebris is committed to fostering an open and inclusive culture and our people are our most important asset.”
Serra and Niccolini had been close friends since college and she was among Serra’s most trusted staff members before concerns arose over her job performance in 2019, the court found. These included that she did not attend important meetings and frequently worked from home.
The court’s findings provided insight into the inner workings of one of Europe’s best-known asset managers, specializing in banks and financial institutions.
Details of bonuses and pay deals for Niccolini and another senior Algebris executive were among the evidence cited in the court judgment. Serra’s management style and its relationships with customers have also come under scrutiny.
The judgment said Serra viewed Niccolini extremely highly for most of his jobs. He said a male executive, Alex Lasagna, received more than the roughly $3 million in bonuses Niccolini paid out between 2014 and 2019, but he found no gender discrimination. Instead, the court accepted that Serra viewed lasagna as more important to the company.
Serra became angry, the court heard, when the CEO of one of Italy’s biggest banks called him to complain about sending a relatively junior employee to a key meeting. The junior employee also complained to Serra about going to client meetings alone and not getting enough support from Niccolini.
Serra pushed Niccolini and his team to have an in-person meeting with Algebris’ top 50 clients at least once every two months. The pair discussed what changes Serra wanted and how to assess his team’s liability, according to the judgement.