Goldman Sachs’s workplace culture is about to face some serious scrutiny in a high-stakes £1 million lawsuit brought by a former executive.
Ian Dodd, who left the bank in 2021, claimed that Goldman employees at its London office frequently “express distress” with meetings characterised by “high emotions, often tears”, according to documents filed in the High Court and reported by the Financial Times.
Now, the 55-year-old former global head of recruiting at Goldman Sachs International is suing the bank, arguing that his demanding role at the “dysfunctional” workplace where he was “working excessive hours” led to a mental breakdown.
Dodd started working at Goldman’s London office in November 2018 but reportedly became unwell in 2019 before quitting two years later.
Other insightful claims into the Wall Street titan’s culture from Dodd’s allegations include that comments such as “take that as your first punch in the face” or references to staff members receiving a “slap” or “punch” were condoned. Overall, he’s accused Goldman of having a “culture of bullying”.
Goldman has denied all of the allegations
A case management hearing has been scheduled for December, which is likely to set down a timetable for trial.
Goldman has denied Dodd’s claims and filed a detailed defence at the High Court, the FT reports.
The bank said: “As with many workplaces, there were occasions when colleagues were upset, for a variety of reasons (sometimes unconnected with work and sometimes connected with work), but it is denied that such instances were frequent or usual.”
“It is denied that there was a ‘culture of divisiveness’ or unpleasant infighting at the Defendant, whether as alleged or at all”, the bank’s defence document continues.
It also denies Dodd’s claims that “sobbing through meetings” was “common behaviour” or that there was a “consistently high level of emotion” running through team meetings.
In the court defence document, the bank contests allegations that there were “displays of general agitation” by staff and denies there was a “culture of bullying at the defendant”.
The lawsuit comes amid heightened scrutiny of Goldman’s working environment, which has prompted the bank to instigate changes. Goldman last year told its most senior bankers they would be allowed to take as much holiday as they want so they can “rest and recharge”.
In its High Court defense document, Goldman points out that Dodd wrote to his line manager in November 2018 that while his first few days had been intense, they had “reaffirmed why Goldman Sachs is a wonderful place for me to be right now.”
The bank in its defense document also claims that any pressure Dodd felt to be always on was “self-generated”: “If he did work excessive hours, this was not because it was required or expected of him,” it said.
Although Dodd alleged that senior managers at the bank ought to have known that he was becoming mentally unwell due to his work, Goldman denied it “knew or ought to have known that the Claimant was becoming unwell”.
In its defence, the bank also argued that Dodd caused or contributed to his breakdown by failing to report to bosses that he was unwell and giving a false account to colleagues concerning his mother’s ill health and death.
Meanwhile, Goldman claims that colleagues had urged Dodd not to overwork and one had told him to reduce his travel and put time in his diary to go to the gym.
Goldman Sachs didn’t respond to Fortune’s request for comment. Slater and Gordon, the law firm representing Dodd, declined to comment citing the “ongoing litigation”.
A culture of bullying
It’s not the first time Goldman has been accused of having a gruelling workplace culture that demands staff work ultra-long hours.
In 2021, junior Goldman bankers begged to work just 80 hours a week, after a leaked survey highlighted how “inhumane” expectations were leading to mental health issues among staff.
Meanwhile, last year, Jamie Fiore Higgins a former Goldman Sachs exec unvelieved the bullying, sexism and discrimination she experienced while working at the bank in her book, Bully Market: My Story of Money and Misogyny at Goldman Sachs.
One of the stark claims she makes in the book, is that there was pushback on her using the firm’s lactation room after returning to work from maternity leave.
“You need to be at your desk working, not pumping,” a partner at the firm allegedly said.
“If your values aligned with the men in the glass offices, you were fine. But if you had different interests, look out. Leaving your desk to get your wing tips shoe-shined was a worthwhile endeavor,” Higgins concluded in the book. “Providing breastmilk for your infant at home? Not so much.”