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US bank regulator grilled over ‘toxic culture’ at agency

Martin Gruenberg rebuffed calls for his resignation from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
Martin Gruenberg rebuffed calls for his resignation from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) - Copyright AFP ROBERTO SCHMIDT
Martin Gruenberg rebuffed calls for his resignation from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) - Copyright AFP ROBERTO SCHMIDT
Daniel AVIS

US lawmakers attacked the head of a top financial regulator for a second consecutive day on Thursday over accusations his agency failed to deal with workplace misconduct, including reports of discrimination and sexual harassment. 

Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee called on Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) chair Martin Gruenberg to step down after an independent report found that the agency, set up to protect bank deposits, had failed to tackle workplace misconduct issues going back years.

Gruenberg has led the FDIC on and off since 2005, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, and was recently reappointed to the regulator’s top job by Joe Biden.

“You should resign,” Republican Senator Tim Scott told Gruenberg. “Your employees do not have confidence in you.”

“This is not a single incident,” added Scott. “This spans over a decade-plus of your leadership of the FDIC.”   

Democrats on the committee also criticized Gruenberg’s leadership but stopped short of calling for his resignation — accusing Republicans of playing politics. 

“Chairman Gruenberg, the Republicans who have called today for your resignation are engaged in a purely political exercise,” Senator Elizabeth Warren said, accusing her colleagues of looking to replace Gruenberg with a Republican appointee.

“Your resignation would do nothing to improve the toxic culture at the FDIC, but it would give Republicans a veto over bank policy,” she added.

– Harassment, discrimination –

The FDIC commissioned the independent report, which was released last week, following allegations about its workplace practices in a series of articles by the Wall Street Journal.

“For far too many employees and for far too long, the FDIC has failed to provide a workplace safe from sexual harassment, discrimination and other interpersonal misconduct,” the report’s authors found.

They said a “patriarchal, insular and risk-averse culture” contributed to persistent workplace misconduct at the FDIC, and that a “widespread fear of retaliation” had led to underreporting of misconduct.

The report noted a few examples, including one employee who said she feared for her physical safety when a colleague who had been stalking her continued to text her even after she complained about him.

Some FDIC employees from underrepresented groups reported being told they were “token” hires to fill a quota, while other employees said they had heard supervisors making homophobic statements. 

“Management’s responses to allegations of misconduct, as well as the culture and conditions that gave rise to them, have been insufficient and ineffective,” the report’s authors said, adding that “cultural and structural change” was needed.

– Gruenberg ‘committed’ to reforms – 

The report also looked into reports that Gruenberg had a reputation within the FDIC for having a temper, and found some employees “continued to experience deeply unsettling exchanges during which he was extremely ‘harsh,’ ‘aggressive,’ and ‘upset.'”

The report’s authors said that while Gruenberg’s conduct was not “a root cause of the sexual harassment and discrimination in the agency,” workplace culture “starts at the top.” 

The report overshadowed Gruenberg’s pre-planned appearances in Congress this week to discuss US bank regulation. 

“I accept the findings of the report, and as chairman I take full responsibility,” Gruenberg told lawmakers Thursday, while rebuffing calls for his resignation.

Gruenberg said he was “personally committed” to addressing the issues raised in the report, and implementing its recommendations. 

“Our employees are extraordinarily dedicated to the agency and its mission,” he said. “They deserve to have a workplace where all feel safe, valued and respected.”

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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