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Bankers Do Battle In Obscure Courts

Nov. 5, 2015, 7:03 PM

There’s a section of London called the Isle of Dogs, where much of the science-fiction horror film 28 Days Laterwas filmed.

It’s also where one of London’s employment tribunals is located, which have become a new venue where several former bankers — who were fired from Barclays, Lloyds and Citigroup for alleged sub par performance or in connection with recent rate-rigging scandals — are suing their former employers seeking unpaid bonuses and to set the record straight.

The employment tribunals are an unusual choice of forum in that cases filed there typically settle for less than $10,000. By contrast, some former bankers are seeking unpaid bonuses and salaries potentially worth far more.

But also they want to set the record straight and may be willing to fight for years to do so. The banks, which also need to protect their reputation, are hiring legal teams to fight back and defend their decisions. Bloomberg has the full, fascinating story:

There are no wigs, no gowns, no pomp of royal courts. But for the outcasts of the City of London, there’s a shot at redemption and a bit of money, if not justice.

Inside drab government offices on the Isle of Dogs in east London, and in another building six miles to the west, formerly high-flying traders are battling the giant banks that once showered them with six-figure paychecks.

Anyone who’s spent time in a U.S. courthouse, or sat through a hearing that featured a pro se litigant will instantly recognize some similarities to the scene that the Bloomberg article paints of Paul Carlier, one of the bankers who is suing:

Heaving a heavy sports bag of paperwork, he arrived on Sept. 16, in an open-neck shirt, to face Lloyds’s team: a half-dozen lawyers and executives in suits.

“Doesn’t seem fair, does it?” Carlier, 46, said. His written witness statement -- full of exclamation marks, capital letters and expletives -- was, as the judge put it, “extremely difficult to follow.”

Kelly Hagedorn, special counsel in Jenner & Block’s recently opened London office, said it’s not unusual to see Big Law attorneys in these employment tribunals representing the banks.

“We tend to see an increase in claims being brought by bankers against their employers when there has been some kind of market disruption,” said Hagedorn.

For example, in the months and years immediately following the financial crisis, there was an increase in claims relating to alleged unpaid or underpaid bonuses, she said. The current increase is linked to the relatively recent banking scandals such as the allegations of benchmark manipulation, according to Hagedorn.

George Whipple, a partner at Epstein Becker & Green in New York, who previously worked in house at Credit Suisse, said the U.K. is one of the most expensive places to litigate, so the banks have to be careful that their legal fees do not exceed their liability.

On the other hand, the bankers often can’t afford lawyers either. Instead, they choose to face off against the bank’s hired guns. And that Whipple said, is a “growing trend.”

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