Merrill Lynch wins £7.5m sex discrimination case

A former executive at the London offices of Merrill Lynch has lost her £7.5m sex discrimination case against the US investment bank.

An employment tribunal dismissed Stephanie Villalba’s allegations of sexual discrimination and unequal pay. But the 42-year-old won her claim of unfair dismissal, resulting from her sacking in August 2003.

Her partial victory is likely to cap her compensation to about £55,000, a tiny fraction of what she asked for.

The tribunal decided that Villalba had been unfairly dismissed because, having been removed from a senior post, she was entitled to wait to see if a suitable alternative position could be found in the organisation.

Villalba, the former head of Merrill’s private client business in Europe, has made no decision on whether to appeal.

The tribunal upheld Villalba’s claim of victimisation on certain specific issues, including bullying e-mails in connection with a contract, but said it found no evidence of “laddish culture” at the bank.

“We said from the start that this case was about performance not gender,” Merrill said in a statement. “Ms Villalba was removed by the very same person who had promoted her into the position and who then replaced her with another woman.

The action – the biggest claim heard by an employment tribunal in the UK – had been viewed as something of a test case.

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