US judge dismisses ex-Barclays trader’s whistleblower lawsuit

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) -A U.S. judge on Friday dismissed a former Barclays Plc trader’s whistleblower lawsuit accusing the British bank of firing him after he complained it ignored basic risk management and violated its own policies for detecting rogue trading.

U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken in Manhattan said Brian La Belle, who had been Barclays’ head of commercial real estate trading, could not sue under the federal Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblowing law.

La Belle’s job termination in late July 2018 came at a time Barclays had been under intense scrutiny over its treatment of whistleblowers.

In May 2018, British regulators fined Jes Staley, then Barclays’ chief executive, about 642,000 pounds as punishment for trying to unmask a whistleblower. Barclays also clawed back 500,000 pounds of Staley’s compensation.

Much of La Belle’s case concerned “mandatory block leave,” where Barclays required some employees to take 10 consecutive business days off with no access to its computers, to prevent wrongdoers from covering their tracks.

La Belle, of Hampton, New York, said he was forced to work twice through mandatory leaves in 2017, with colleagues calling him on his personal cellphone to avoid detection, only to be threatened by a supervisor to keep quiet.

He also said Barclays fired him after he reported misconduct internally and to U.S. regulators a few weeks earlier concerning two clients and another employee.

Oetken, however, said Sarbanes-Oxley did not generally cover claims that companies violated internal policies, even if the behaviors were wrongful.

He also said La Belle did not show that his firing resulted from his whistleblowing and had “indisputably” been on “thin ice” by mid-June 2018, when Barclays said it had decided to terminate him.

La Belle’s lawyer Steven Barentzen said his client is considering all options. “Whistleblowers like Mr. La Belle who are retaliated against for having the courage to stand up to their employer should be protected under the law,” he said.

Barclays declined to comment.

La Belle had joined Barclays in July 2015 from UBS, brokerage industry records show.

His lawsuit had sought reinstatement, more than $10 million of front and back pay, and punitive damages.

The case is La Belle v Barclays Capital Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-03800.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Grant McCool)