Barclays challenges ruling it ‘retaliated’ against whistleblower in India

By Lawrence White and Kirstin Ridley

LONDON (Reuters) – Barclays is seeking to overturn a ruling by an Indian court that found the British bank had retaliated against a whistleblower, legal filings show.

The case concerns a former senior IT manager who raised concerns about how a data loss had been handled.

Barclays’ whistleblowing policy “appears to be in existence only on paper”, a District Court in the western Indian city of Pune said in a March 28 judgment published online, which was seen by Reuters and is reported here for the first time.

The Pune court ordered Barclays to pay Atul Gupta two years’ salary, totalling around 9,600,000 Indian rupees ($115,620), saying the bank’s Indian service company had made him redundant “in retaliation to his whistleblowing act”.

A hearing for Barclays’ appeal to the Bombay High Court is listed for Oct. 20, court records show. One source familiar with the case said the bank was attempting to strike out the award.

“Barclays is unequivocally committed to having a culture where colleagues feel comfortable to speak up when something isn’t right and no employee is excluded from being able to raise a concern – by contract or otherwise,” a bank spokesperson said.

“We take the protection of whistleblowers very seriously and have zero tolerance for whistleblower retaliation,” the spokesperson added. They declined to comment on the specifics of the Indian case.

Barclays has faced other fines and regulatory censure for failing to protect people who raise red flags, after former chief executive Jes Staley in 2017 sought to unmask a whistleblower who had sent letters criticising a bank employee.

The Gupta case raises fresh questions about Barclays’ whistleblowing procedures and whether they are being applied consistently across subsidiaries, said Francesca West, a lawyer who represents whistleblowers and who reviewed the judgment.

“Cases like this are seminal moments for big organisations, asking them ‘whose side are we on?’,” she said.

Email messages between the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Gupta, seen by Reuters, showed the whistleblowing team at Britain’s markets regulator tracked the Indian case but does not plan “specific action”.

The FCA, which has ordered banks to put in place clear internal processes to allow whistleblowing, declined to comment when asked by Reuters why it had decided against further action or whether it had asked Barclays about its handling of the matter.

“We are in regular contact with Barclays and discuss a wide range of issues, including whistleblowing,” a spokesperson said, adding that the FCA could not comment on individual cases.

A lawyer representing Barclays’ Global Service Centre Private Limited and two senior managers in the case told the court that Gupta’s concerns had been internally investigated but had been unsubstantiated, the judgment shows.

They said Gupta’s role had become redundant and the 55-year-old had accepted three months’ severance pay.

Gupta has also appealed to the Bombay High Court, court records show, arguing the pay-out awarded was too low, the source familiar with the appeals said.

Last year, Gupta also filed a secondary civil case against Barclays, another court filing shows. The source familiar with the case said Gupta is alleging the bank produced misleading documents during the initial proceedings.

Barclays also declined to comment on this case. A hearing is listed for Oct. 12, a public court website shows.

The cases turn on how around 1.4 terabytes of data was accidentally deleted in August 2019, costing the bank about 700,000 pounds ($854,140). Barclays did not dispute this in court.

Gupta said he reported concerns about how the loss had been handled to senior management through a ‘raising concerns’ channel, to the legal team and finally to Barclays’ global whistleblowing team in emails on Oct. 17 and 25, 2019, the judgment shows.

But on Nov. 15, 2019, three days before a scheduled video call with a special internal investigator, Gupta’s managers told him he was at “risk of redundancy”. On Feb. 4, 2020, he was dismissed, the judgment shows.

($1 = 83.0300 Indian rupees)

($1 = 0.8195 pounds)

(Additional reporting by Arpan Chaturvedi; Editing by Sinead Cruise and Alexander Smith)