Banker fails to make former employer pay up for legal costs

An investment banker at the centre of the UK’s biggest sex discrimination case has lost her claim for nearly £600,000 legal costs.

Stephanie Villalba, the former head of European private banking at Merrill Lynch, now faces a total bill estimated at up to £1m.

Villalba, who lost her £7.5m action against the US bank earlier this year, returned to the tribunal last month to demand that Merrill pay £568,000 of her legal costs because of the ‘unreasonable’ way it had conducted its defence.

She said four senior executives had lied under oath and had made her rack up huge extra legal costs because of their ‘deliberate obstruction’.

But in a ruling today, the Croydon employment tribunal threw out Villalba’s claim. The ruling concluded that the behaviour of the four did not ‘amount to unreasonable behaviour in the conduct of the proceedings’. It went on to criticise the conduct of both sides for their ‘aggressive and confrontational’ tactics and also rejected Merrill’s claim for costs.

At last year’s hearing, Villalba alleged that she was ‘bullied and belittled’ and told to serve drinks to clients on a plane. Merrill Lynch dismissed the claims as ‘preposterous’ and successfully argued that she had been moved from her job in 2002 solely because of her performance.

Villalba won a separate claim for ‘unfair dismissal’ for which she was awarded about £65,000.

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