THE LAW MARKET REPORT: Employment

Lawyer 2B looks at the biggest deals and key legal and market developments to have taken place over the summer


Employment law hit mainstream headlines this summer with a stream of discrimination cases issued against City employers by women claiming unfair treatment.

The biggest of these in terms of the compensation being claimed around 7.5m is Stephanie Villalbas case against her former employer, investment bank Merrill Lynch. Villalba was a high-level executive at the bank before being dismissed in July 2003. She is accusing her employers of unfair dismissal, unequal pay and discrimination because she is female.

In the case being heard in the Employment Tribunal in Croydon, Villalbas solicitors Lewis Silkin, led by James Davies, with lead counsel Dinah Rose of Blackstone Chambers, are comparing Villalbas pay and work with that of male colleagues who work for the bank in other countries.

This is the first time such a comparison has been made in a UK tribunal, and Merrill Lynchs advisers Lovells partner Lisa Mayhew and Nicholas Underhill QC of Fountain Court Chambers are arguing that the UKs Equal Pay Act does not allow parallels to be drawn between the UK and abroad.

Although the ultimate decision is unlikely to rest on this point of law, it is still important for multinational corporations to test the argument, particularly as the number of high-level sex discrimination claims shows little sign of abating.

Other cases decided this year include Arianna McGregor-Mezzoteros successful claim against BNP Paribas for discriminatory treatment following maternity leave. Mezzotero instructed Hammonds, while BNP was represented by Clyde & Co. Meanwhile, Nabarro Nathanson has been acting pro bono for British Airways (BA) stewardesses in their case against the airline, with a decision expected soon. Addleshaw Goddard is advising BA on the case.