Could you lose $7.2 billion and not lose your job because of inflexible labor protections:
In a French Twist, Infamous Trader Gets Hero Treatment
Bank Finds It Hard to Say Au Revoir to Mr. Kerviel;
'Che Guevara of Finance'
By ANDREW HIGGINS
February 1, 2008; Page A1
PARIS -- Société Générale says wayward trader Jérôme Kerviel lost the bank $7.2 billion. But that was last week. He's now on his way to cult celebrity -- and he still hasn't lost his job.
Société Générale has stopped paying Mr. Kerviel and told him not to come to the office, but it hasn't managed to formally fire him. French law stipulates that to do that, the bank must first call him in for a sit-down meeting and explain its dissatisfaction. He has the right to bring along a trade-union official, a lawyer or anyone else he'd like.
That will be complicated: A pair of Paris judges this week released Mr. Kerviel from custody but forbade him to have contact with the bank. "This is a very peculiar case," says Emmanuel Dockès, a law professor at l'Université Lyon 2, Mr. Kerviel's alma mater in central France.
Reviled by Société Générale as a malevolent fraudster and "mutating virus," Mr. Kerviel, 31 years old, is now being hailed by a growing band of fans as "Robin Hood," "the Che Guevara of Finance" and even a genius worthy of the Nobel Prize in economics.
"Let's be honest: No one likes banks...and people like the rich to get cheated," says Christophe Rocancourt, a celebrated French con man who swindled wealthy Americans in the 1990s by masquerading as a French member of the Rockefeller family, a film producer and various other people.
The French Communist Party, meanwhile, has compared Mr. Kerviel with Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish French army officer whose persecution by the military hierarchy at the end of the 19th century has become a byword for gross injustice.
Société Générale, which sees Mr. Kerviel in a rather different light, has said it definitely wants to fire him and is trying to find a legal way to do it.
Firing has never been easy in France, where on-the-spot dismissals à l'américaine are viewed as brutal and very un-French. "This is not like America or England. We have rules that protect employees, no matter what they do wrong," says Stéphane Boudin, a Paris lawyer specializing in labor disputes.
Société Générale has "no intention whatsoever" of keeping Mr. Kerviel on its staff, said François Martineau, one of the bank's lawyers, earlier this week. But, he conceded, the bank can't formally fire him without following an elaborate process laid down by law. "We have to follow procedure," said Mr. Martineau, rolling his eyes.
Another member of the bank's legal team said yesterday that the bank had sent a formal letter to Mr. Kerviel calling him to a dismissal rendezvous. It scheduled the meeting for yesterday but the trader didn't show up, according to the lawyer.
The bank is intent on seeking at least some compensation for the damage Mr. Kerviel caused. It won't get back the €4.9 billion ($7.2 billion) in losses his trades allegedly triggered. But Société Générale could establish a claim to any future earnings by Mr. Kerviel should he turn his adventures into a book or a movie.
Mr. Kerviel's own lawyer, Elisabeth Meyer, said earlier this week that she was still waiting for the bank to initiate dismissal proceedings.
"They've got 120,000 employees, and they can't find a single person to send a letter," she said.
Ms. Meyer said the bank had left Mr. Kerviel in a bind: He can't go to work, but because he's still technically an employee of Société Générale, he can't sign up for unemployment benefits.
Ahh, the enlighted French.
ARC: St Wendeler