Stephanie Villalba is seeking more than £7m from Merrill Lynch in a sex discrimination claim that could result in the highest such payout in Britain.

A woman banker who is seeking more than £7m in damages from Merrill Lynch over claims of sex discrimination spoke yesterday of how she feared that if she complained about an allegedly “discriminatory” manager it would end her career at the bank.

Stephanie Villalba, 42, a former executive at the investment bank, was speaking at a tribunal where she claims she was victimised and forced out of her job in 2003 as a result of complaining about her line manager, Ausaf Abbas.

She said she did not think that she had complained about anything during her entire 17-year career at Merrill Lynch, but for the first time she felt she could not “simply ignore” the discrimination.

“I was feeling completely overwhelmed by Ausaf’s treatment of me, and did not know how to handle it,” she said. “However I was extremely concerned about making a complaint as I was aware that this was frowned upon within Merrill Lynch and that when other employees had complained that had effectively been the end of their careers.”

She said she was “well aware” of an attitude at the bank that individuals who made complaints, whether or not those complaints were genuine, were “troublemakers”.

Ms Villalba is claiming more than £7m in compensation from Merrill Lynch for sex discrimination, unfair dismissal and unequal pay. Her action, if successful, could result in the highest ever payout for a sex discrimination case.

Merrill Lynch denies the claims, saying that Ms Villalba was removed from her post as head of the firm’s private client business in Europe due to “record losses” the company was suffering in the region.

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