Lovells accused of ‘drafting witness statements’ as Villalba draws to close

Counsel for Stephanie Villalba, the former investment banker suing Merrill Lynch in a record £7.5m discrimination claim, last week made a closing statement alleging the bank’s law firm Lovells had “centrally drafted” witness statements.

Dinah Rose of Blackstone Chambers, instructed by Lewis Silkin, told the employment tribunal in Croydon that there was “strong evidence” that Merrill Lynch witness statements had been prepared by Lovells and signed off by witnesses with insufficient care, resulting in “errors”.

A Lovells spokesperson said: “It would be wrong to comment while the tribunal is deliberating its judgment, but we should make it quite clear that Lovells does not accept the claimant’s suggestion.”

Merrill Lynch’s counsel, Fountain Court’s Nicholas Underhill QC, meanwhile described Villalba’s case as “lurid”. He submitted that her case lacked gender-specific features usually present in alleged cases of discriminatory treatment.

The respondents also disagree with the cross-border comparisons used by Villalba’s counsel in her claim for unequal pay. Previous unequal pay claims have only compared salaries within one jurisdiction.

If the tribunal accepts the claimant’s arguments, a landmark precedent could be set for employment claims involving international companies.

Judgment is expected within the next few months.
Merrill Lynch and Lewis Silkin declined to comment.