On 19 December 2018, the French Court of Appeal of Paris (RG 16/09186) stated that the dismissal of Jerôme Kerviel, French trader from SGCIB (Société Générale Corporate and Investment Banking), the investment bank of Société Générale is fair (on the basis of a gross negligence – faute grave).
This overrules the decision (jugement) of the Conseil de Prud’hommes (French jurisdiction dedicated to labour law) dated 7 June 2016, whereby the dismissal was considered unfair (i.e. without a material and true reason) (cause réelle et sérieuse). In this first instance, Jerôme Kerviel obtained not only €100,000 because of the unfair dismissal but also (i) €20,000 due to the vexatious nature of the dismissal, (ii) €18,083.32 as regards to compensation in lieu of notice (indemnité compensatrice de préavis), (iii) €1,808.33 in relation to unpaid vacation pay (congés payés), (iv) €13,609.23 in connection with conventional severance pay (indemnité conventionnelle de licenciement) and (v) €300,000 as to the unpaid bonus for 2007 (plus €2,000 in relation to article 700 of the French Code de procédure civile).
The ratio decidendi of the Court of Appeal of Paris is based on the characterization of the conduct of Jérôme Kerviel during his contract. The blames in the letter of dismissal are considered grounded by the Court of Appeal of Paris (even if previously been ruled purged due to the knowledge of them by the employer). In particular, the blame considered crucial by the Court is the taking of directional positions (i.e. at a highest analyzed value), while at the same time going over authorization (€50 billion for an authorization of €125 million for the whole desk only).
The Court of Appeal of Paris states however that the wilful misconduct (faute intentionnelle) is not characterized: Jérôme Kerviel did not mean to cause the loss of the estimated circa €5 billion. The position of the Court is in line with the statements of Jérôme Kerviel who considered himself as being part of a spur gear (as mentioned in his book “L’engrenage, mémoire d’un trader”). This decision gives a warning to the traders: taking inconsiderate risks could lead to a dismissal (with maybe prison), and at the same time a balance: a bank which loosens internal regulations (or admits implicitly / explicitly / or maybe intentionally some inappropriate derogations) cannot fully blame a trader.
The ratio decidendi of the Court of Appeal of Paris is also grounded on the force of res judicata (for res judicata pro veritate habetur – autorité de la chose jugée). This means that, once the decision is final, such a decision is considered as representing the judicial truth. Jérôme Kerviel was indeed convicted with offences (délits pénaux) by a distinct decision of the French Cour de cassation dated 19 March 2014 (Ch. Crim., pourvoi n°12-87416). In this respect, the Court of Appeal of Paris qualifies the force res judicata principle, as absolute. As a consequence, other civil French pending decisions are to be linked (and bound) by the decision of the French Cour de cassation. In this perspective, the conviction of the trader by the French Cour de cassation influes on, and binds the decision of the Court of Appeal of Paris, ruling the labor decision.
It should however be considered that the absolute feature of the force res judicata, as stated in the ruling of the Court of Appeal of Paris, should be subject to challenge. As such, since any legal concept, even considered as absolute, are, in a democratic country, subject to other legal concepts tempering (within the meaning of qualifying) such absolute rights.
It should also be considered that this characterization by the Court of Appeal of Paris is more in line with what would be acceptable in a context where the bank is considered as being itself in default, since being itself convicted by the French banking regulator – Commission Bancaire for the lack of control and monitoring of the trading systems.
In light of this, the Court of Appeal of Versailles ruled on 23 September 2016 (room 9 – RG: 14/01570) (ruling by a review of the case decided by the French Cour de Cassation dated 19 March 2014 (Ch. Crim., pourvoi n°12-87416)) that Jérôme Kerviel is only partially responsible for the prejudice caused to the Société Générale and convicts him to pay €1 million only (instead of circa €5 billion).