IFM Investors settles sexual harassment case for £270,000

Settlement exceeds the £236,000 that former analyst Nathalie Abildgaard had been seeking at employment tribunal.

IFM Investors has settled a sexual harassment and constructive dismissal case brought by Nathalie Abildgaard, a former analyst in its infrastructure team, with the London Central Employment Tribunal for £270,000 ($354,000; €312,000).

Abildgaard told Infrastructure Investor that the settlement exceeded the £236,000 she had been seeking. It includes a £50,000 donation to Legal Aid for Business Diversity, the charity she helped found to provide legal aid for victims of sexual harassment.

Abildgaard, who joined the Australian fund manager in early 2016, left the company’s European infrastructure team last April. Her departure followed an alleged incident the previous month involving Frederic Michel-Verdier, an executive director with the European infrastructure team, at a work-related celebration in a Madrid nightclub. The dispute centred around alleged invitations to Abildgaard to join Michel-Verdier in his hotel room, including by text message, and other verbal advances. Michel-Verdier has denied the allegations in court.

Abildgaard told us that the settlement does not involve any acceptance of guilt or liability on Michel-Verdier’s or IFM’s part, but that it does not force her to withdraw her allegations either.

In a joint statement, both parties wrote: “IFM Investors and a former employee, Nathalie Abildgaard, have reached a settlement agreement in relation to Ms. Abildgaard’s Employment Tribunal claim including her claims for sexual harassment, constructive dismissal and victimisation. Both parties believe the terms of the settlement to be fair, and importantly, [that they] do not restrict Ms. Abildgaard from discussing the case. All legal proceeding will now cease.”

Infrastructure Investor posed several additional questions to IFM, but it did not wish to comment beyond its joint statement with Abildgaard.

In an email to Infrastructure Investor, Abildgaard said: “I am happy that I have been and will continue to be able to share my experience and raise awareness of the challenges and barriers to achieve justice that victims of workplace harassment are facing.”

Bonus dispute

Abildgaard left IFM in April 2018 following the alleged incident. She said she had been intending to leave later in the year – in around August or September, when her annual bonus would be paid – to take up a job at Global Infrastructure Partners. Abildgaard added that the job offer from GIP was still open, but did not specify whether she would accept it.

When Abildgaard quit IFM last year, she asked the company to pay her bonus in proportion to the amount of time she had worked in 2018. That would have amounted to circa £40,000, Abildgaard told us. As first reported by UK newspaper The Sunday Times, IFM rejected her request because it “did not feel the incident was of such a nature that it in effect forced Nathalie to resign”.

A source familiar with IFM’s plans confirmed that the company was undertaking a workplace culture review that had been launched as a direct result of this case.

Asked why she had decided to settle, Abildgaard told us: “Part of me would have liked to continue the case in court in order to get a verdict. [But] the terms of the settlement offer – financial compensation exceeding my court claim and no NDA clauses – were so favourable I would not have been able to justify to a judge taking the case forward without exposing myself to a significant cost order.”

She added that the case had cost her about £100,000 in legal fees and characterised the whole process as “emotionally and economically draining”.

Daniel Kemp contributed reporting to this story