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Merrill Wins Dismissal of Chunilal’s Bonus Lawsuit

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June 18 (Bloomberg) -- Merrill Lynch & Co. won dismissal of a lawsuit over a reduced bonus filed by its former head of Asia-Pacific investment banking, Damian Chunilal.

The dispute shouldn’t be heard in the U.K. because “there is no good arguable case that the breach relied on in fact occurred within the jurisdiction,” Judge Michael Burton said.

Chunilal, who was fired from Merrill in November 2008, less than two months after the bank agreed to be taken over by Bank of America Corp., said his bonus was reduced to 20 percent of the year earlier level. He sued the firm in London in October for breach of contract.

Merrill sought the dismissal, saying English courts didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter. Chunilal, who worked for the bank for 19 years, relocated to Hong Kong from London in 2004. He was paid a bonus of $2.3 million in his last year, compared to $11.7 million in 2007 and $13.9 million in 2006, according court papers.

James Baker, a lawyer at Teacher Stern in London, said Chunilal’s lawyer probably chose London because it is perceived as more sympathetic to employees.

“They probably felt guaranteed a more independent and impartial, and possibly employee-friendly, jurisdiction,” he said. “New York is felt to be a very anti-employee environment.”

Merrill’s “normal practice” was to offer fired employees 20 percent of the bonus they received the previous year, Chunilal’s lawyer, Robin Knowles, said at a hearing last week.

London Decisions

Knowles didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling. Chunilal didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail.

Knowles argued the decision to pay the reduced bonus was made in London by the head of human resources for investment banking, and that Chunilal’s first contract with Merrill was governed under English law, while the second contract, negotiated in New York, didn’t specify.

Except for the fact that Chunilal’s salary was paid into an English bank account, “there are, in my judgment, no continuing factors indicating, or certainly demonstrating with reasonable certainty, any connection with the U.K., or with U.K. law” after January 2004, Burton said.

The departure of Chunilal and that of Jason Brand, president of Asia-Pacific operations, and Raymundo Yu, chairman of the region, came shortly after Merrill’s purchase by Bank of America. The Asia-Pacific head of mergers and acquisitions, Kalpana Desai, also left months later.

The case is Damian Chunilal v. Merrill Lynch International Inc., case no. 2009-1354, High Court of Justice (London).

To contact the reporter on this story: Lindsay Fortado in London at lfortado@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net.

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