Two Muslim former City of London brokers have launched an unusual legal action alleging religious discrimination in a case that challenges how financial companies allocate clients.
The women co-workers claim their bosses at Compagnie Financière Tradition, a Swiss stockbroker, diverted Jewish clients away from them, giving them instead to non-Muslim colleagues.
The employment tribunal case is a rare – and potentially far-reaching – example of religious discrimination laws being used to challenge how City businesses divide up work among employees.
Documents prepared for the London Central Employment Tribunal show that the women – who cannot be identified for legal reasons – allege they suffered "complex and multi-faceted" discrimination while working for Tradition in London and elsewhere over the past three years.
They allege they were discriminated against on grounds of gender, north African roots and religion.
In the religious discrimination part of the claim, one of the women alleges a client working for a big bank was allocated to a Jewish co-worker because the two "had in common both language and race". In other instances where work was allegedly stripped from the women, they say they may have been the victims of more than one form of discrimination.
"The removal of certain clients from the claimants ... might have been because the claimants are Muslim and because they are women," says their submission.
The case is subject to tight reporting restrictions forbidding identification of any of the main people allegedly involved.
Tradition said it was "deeply disappointed" about the women's allegations, which had been investigated and found to have no merit. The company added it was confident the tribunal would confirm the findings of its internal probe.
The case is a novel use of anti-religious discrimination rules that came into force four years ago and have generated test cases on questions such as the rights of employees to wear headscarves or crosses.
The women's claim comes as employment lawyers watch closely how big companies' activities are affected by the broadening and toughening of employment laws, including those on age discrimination.
James Davies, joint head of the employment department at Lewis Silkin, the law firm, said the case showed how employees in financial services, accounting and legal industries were starting to use discrimination laws to target companies over how bosses divided up and gave out assignments. These cases often created difficulties for companies, as many managers did not keep good records of the reasons behind their decisions on allocating work.
"It's a new area. You are getting these work allocation cases, which are quite difficult for employers to defend," he said.