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Judge rules in Citibank’s favor in case against analyst it sacked for claiming his partner’s meals on expenses and lying about it

By Anna Cooban

London (CNN) — Citibank has won an employment tribunal case brought by an analyst it sacked for claiming expenses for meals he shared with his partner, and then lying about it.

Szabolcs Fekete, a senior analyst, sued the bank for unfair dismissal after he submitted expenses for two sandwiches, two coffees, a drink, and two pasta dishes that he claimed to have eaten by himself on a work trip to Amsterdam in July 2022.

Citibank, which is part of Citigroup (C), fired Fekete for gross misconduct last year after, as he admitted later, he had shared the meals with his partner, who was traveling with him but was not an employee of the bank.

According to the ruling last month by a UK employment tribunal, which was published Friday and first reported by the Financial Times Monday, “the claimant was employed in a position of trust in a global financial institution.”

The judge said in the ruling that Citi’s decision to fire Fekete was a reasonable response by a reasonable employer.

“I am satisfied that even if the expense had been filed under a misunderstanding, there was an obligation upon the claimant to own up and rectify the position at first opportunity. I accept that the respondent requires a commitment to honesty from its employees,” employment judge Illing said in the ruling.

Citi told CNN in a statement that it was “pleased with the decision” of the tribunal.

According to a transcript of an email exchange, included in the employment tribunal ruling, after Fekete filed the expense claim, his manager asked whether he had bought all the food for himself.

Fekete responded: “On that day, I skipped breakfast and only had one coffee in the morning. For lunch I had one sandwich with a drink and one coffee in the restaurant, and took another coffee back to the office with me, and had the second sandwich in the afternoon… which also served as my dinner.”

“All my expenses are within the €100 daily allowance. Could you please outline what your concern is as I don’t think I have to justify my eating habits to this extent,” Fekete said.

During an internal investigation, Fekete said that, when he had initially denied sharing the meals with his partner, he had been experiencing personal difficulties, including grieving the recent death of his grandmother, and had been taking strong medication. At the time, he also had work concerns and experienced a “lack of support” from the company, according to the analyst.

Fekete added that, in his seven years working at the bank, he had faced no disciplinary issues. He said he misunderstood the company’s expense policy.

Fekete did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment via LinkedIn.

Citi told the tribunal the issue had not been the value of the meals Fekete expensed, but that claiming meals for a partner breached its expenses policy — which does not allow expensing meals for spouses — and that Fekete had not been honest when given the opportunity. Citi’s expenses policy, parts of which are detailed in the ruling, also states that employees must list all attendees whose meals they submit for reimbursement.

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