The Avengers: Fallen London Bankers Seek Own Form of Justiceby
Ex-financial pros go it alone in tribunals against banks
Traders save more than $40,000 in fees by avoiding attorneys
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.
All three are representing themselves as they fight to clear their names, or at least vent some anger, in a low-rent system of British justice: employment tribunals. For months, even years, they’ve gathered evidence and studied the law, waiting to interrogate former bosses and, in their eyes, set the record straight.
It might seem like cold revenge. Some of these employees were dismissed for sub-par performance. Others were let go in connection with market-rigging scandals that have cost banks many billions to settle. While the tribunals don’t keep precise statistics, the number of former bankers turning to them to sue their old firms is on the rise.
But here in these two modest quasi-courts, the money at stake is miniscule by City standards. On average, successful plaintiffs walk away with 5,000 pounds ($7,700).
Then again, this isn’t just about money. The proceedings have riveted the City, where many follow their cases and think: That might have been me. Everyone knows a blotted resume can end a City career. The banks, for their part, maintain the employees were dismissed for cause.
And so, Carlier, a former foreign-exchange trader, has gone to battle. He says Lloyds dismissed him after he blew the whistle on improper trading.
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.”
At Lloyds, Carlier was making 225,000 pounds in salary and bonus. For him and the others, success at the tribunal could pave the way to London’s high court -- and a chance to claim unpaid bonuses.
Less Than Grand
The tribunals, set up in 1964, forgo formal airs and even workaday conveniences. Water coolers are unfilled and security passes are in short supply. It is a world away from the white marble floors and oak-paneled corridors of the grand Royal Courts of Justice.
The potential payouts for unfair dismissal are also less than grand. And so is the cost of turning to the tribunals when compared to bringing cases to full courts in the U.K. and U.S., where it can easily cost more than $100,000. In British courts, losers often have to foot opponents’ legal bills. Attorneys can charge 25,000 pounds for a three-day hearing.
“I’ve now exchanged 500 e-mails with the other side," said Ostendorf, a former trader at Barclays. He’s been suing the bank since 2010 for unfair dismissal. "Can you imagine how much it costs to pay a barrister to write 500 e-mails?"
While the ex-bankers worry about their savings, they also want to clear their names. Stimpson, 54, sued Citigroup after he was fired during the bank’s investigation into the foreign-exchange scandal.
"I don’t feel like lawyers have their clients’ best interests at heart, and besides, this isn’t about winning," Stimpson said as he prepared to testify last month. "This is about having my side of the story heard."
To prepare, Stimpson consulted the book many dismissed traders refer to as the Bible: “Employment Tribunal Claims: Tactics and Precedents.’’
For any chance at success in court, most laypeople require a year of preparation, according to one of the authors, Naomi Cunningham. The trickiest part is usually extracting e-mails from banks, which requires the traders to already be aware of the missives, she said.
Inside the courtroom in Holborn to the east of the theater district, Carlier laid out detailed allegations and named people at his former employer, who he said knew about unethical trading. Carlier, who now markets himself as a foreign-exchange consultant, says he was fired after blowing the whistle when his desk attempted to trade to the detriment of a client.
Across town, in the Isle of Dogs, Stimpson was persistently interrupted by the judge for making long-winded speeches, instead of asking questions. He jumped between document bundles, confusing witnesses.
Cunningham, an attorney, says it’s not easy for bankers and traders to represent themselves in court.
"The single hardest task for these people is cross-examination, because you’ve got to do it badly a few times to really learn it,” said Cunningham. “If it’s your own case that you care passionately about, and somebody you know is telling the tribunal what you know to be a pack of lies, you’re likely to get very cross."