Sex-case banker launches boutique

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Stephanie Villalba, the former Merrill Lynch banker who lost a record 7.5m (€11m) sexual discrimination case against the US bank, has launched a corporate finance and investment management boutique.

The former head of European private client business at Merrill Lynch, who has not worked in the City of London since being dismissed in 2003, has set up New College Capital with her Italian banker husband Alessandro Ciravegna.

Ciravegna is sole director of the investment management company, which was established in January with 100,000 of share capital and gained approval from the UK regulator, the Financial Services Authority, in July. New College, registered at the same address as Ciravegna's previous company, corporate finance boutique Ciravegna Capital Management, employs seven people. Between being set up in December 2000 and the end of 2003, Ciravegna made cumulative profits of just 34,366, according to Companies House.

It is understood that Ciravegna Capital Management will be rolled into the new company, which will have a wider remit than corporate finance. It will conduct investment management for high net worth individuals and small institutions.

The move marks a return to London financial circles for Villalba, whose lawsuit against Merrill Lynch claimed what would have been a record UK payout for sexual discrimination by an employment tribunal. Villalba, who also accused the US bank of unequal pay, unfair dismissal and victimisation, launched her claim in June last year.

She lost her case claiming sexual discrimination and unequal pay in December, but was awarded 60,000 after winning a claim for unfair dismissal. A hearing in July dismissed Villalba's appeal on the grounds of sexual discrimination, but allowed her to proceed with an appeal on the grounds of victimisation and unequal pay.

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