A trainee accountant at one of the world’s biggest firms was sacked after accusing her boss of ‘mansplaining’ when he asked her to wear smarter clothes to work.
Zhihui Lu joined KPMG as an audit assistant in 2015 after graduating from Durham with a degree in accounting and finance – but within two years bosses were raising concerns about her performance as well as her erratic behaviour.
On one occasion Miss Lu asked manager Matt Brunton ‘who was he as a man to be telling her what she can and cannot wear?’ after she turned up at the firm’s Canary Wharf office in London wearing jeans and a jumper.
In a ‘loud and aggressive tirade’ she then asked whether he thought her bra was appropriate and tried to show him her bra strap, an East London tribunal was told.
The ‘completely inappropriate’ outburst was just one of a number of incidents of misconduct that led to Miss Lu being fired after just three years at the accounting giant, the panel heard.
After being taken on as a graduate trainee she was accused of being overly aggressive, emotional and rude and was repeatedly warned about her behaviour.
Miss Lu was suspended and eventually sacked in November 2018 for gross misconduct, and she took the firm to tribunal claiming they had discriminated against her.
But the panel sided with KPMG and dismissed her claims for unfair dismissal, harassment, and disability and race discrimination entirely.
Zhihui Lu joined KPMG as an audit assistant in 2015 after graduating from Durham with a degree in accounting and finance – but within two years bosses were raising concerns about her performance as well as her erratic behaviour
The panel heard Miss Lu had ignored requests to stop taking too much food for herself from lunches laid on for staff and on one occasion turned up with containers so she could remove as much as possible.
She also refused to sit on the same floor as the rest of the Insurance team, commandeering a meeting room five floors below in which she installed a rice cooker.
She repeatedly referred to a senior member of the firm as ‘the bald partner’ despite knowing his name, and told a female colleague she ‘looked terrible’ at work, the panel was told.
The tribunal heard Miss Lu responded to the news that she had missed out on a position she had been after by telling a senior manager she would have done better if she had slept with one of the firm’s male partners.
On one occasion her managers at KPMG became so concerned about Miss Lu’s mental health when they could not get hold of her one evening that they rang the police to check at her home that she was alright, an intervention that she later bitterly complained about.
In fact – as Miss Lu later admitted – she was out at the opera.
In the autumn of 2017 she went off sick from work having been diagnosed with stress and depression.
When she returned to work the following February at the firm’s Canary Wharf office she prompted fresh concerns including over her choice of clothing.
The tribunal heard that Mr Brunton, a senior manager at the company, emailed her to ask her to dress more smartly.
‘I noted you were in the office this afternoon in casual clothing,’ he wrote. ‘This is not appropriate attire for the office during working hours. Please ensure you are in the office in appropriate work attire going forward’.
On one occasion Miss Lu asked manager Matt Brunton ‘who was he as a man to be telling her what she can and cannot wear?’ after she turned up at the firm’s Canary Wharf office in London wearing jeans and a jumper
The hearing was told this prompted Miss Lu to launch ‘a loud and aggressive tirade against him’ demanding to know ‘if the bra she was wearing that day was appropriate, and trying him to show him her bra strap’.
She asked him ‘Who was he as a man to be telling her what she can and cannot wear?’ and then ‘stormed off’, the tribunal heard.
Mr Brunton emailed again to warn her, saying: ‘I do not expect to see you in the office in casual clothing, such as jeans and trainers, during normal working hours.
‘The firm expects employees to wear smart, business casual clothing – it does not support a policy of ”dress down”.’
Miss Lu replied: ‘I do not appreciate mansplaining on dress codes. Bras are clothing. My work wardrobe does not support such weather…May I know if I am able to expense winter clothing…to ensure that I dress to your desired taste?’
Several weeks later, Miss Lu got into another argument after she was spotted helping herself to large amounts of food at a work lunch.
‘She attended with a number of containers to put food into and made several visits taking away food in containers on each occasion,’ the tribunal heard.
‘Despite being asked not to take the food, she did not stop. On at least one occasion that day she was very rude to staff stating she was going to take the food notwithstanding their protestations.’
Miss Lu’s bosses became so concerned at her behaviour that they asked her not to come in to the office until she could prove she was fit to work.