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ET turns back on £7.5m sex bias claim

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Stephanie Villalba, a former Merrill Lynch banker has lost the biggest sexual discrimination claim in Britain, of £7.5 million against her former employers; the bank’s HR department has, however, been given a hand-slapping by the courts.

The £300,000 a year banker who could earn upto a million annually claimed that she was the victim of persistent sexual discrimination and bullying.

On one occasion Ms Villalba claimed that she was made to sit in a stewardess’s seat and serve drinks to male executives on a flight in a corporate jet. She also claimed that former boss, Ausaf Abbas, bullied and humiliated her.

As reported in the Times, Raymundo Yu, senior vice-president at Merrill Lynch said he had had no choice but to remove Ms Villalba from her post after her position became untenable and resulted in a “disastrous financial situation.”

The hearing was told that Ms Villalba had lost the firm £560,000 a week; it also heard that she was reluctant to travel as required by the job.

The Employment Tribunal (ET) in Croydon, South London have rejected the claim of sexual discrimination.

Reported in the paper it said: “We accept the non-discriminatory reasons for her treatment put forward by the respondents and find that Ms Villalba was not less favourably treated on grounds of her sex.”

Merrill Lynch’s HR department have however, been criticized for their actions surrounding Ms Villalba’s situation. Reported in the Times, the ET said: “We wish to emphasise our disappointment at the behaviour of the human resources department in Ms Villalba’s victimisation and their unprofessional behaviour.”

Ms Villalba has been successful in her claim for unfair dismissal and she will be able to claim a maximum of £55,000 damages. The figure will be decided at a hearing yet to be held. The case leaves Ms Villalba with an estimated seven-figure legal bill to pay.

Official figures from the Employment Tribunals Service show that sex discrimination claims have soared comparatively since last year with a 76% rise.

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