Pay up, or I sue

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Despite recent high-profile actions launched by senior executives, the Australian banking sector is still relatively free from litigation by disgruntled employees.

ANZ Bank is being sued by its former head of institutional banking, Steve Targett, for AU$2.1m for allegedly misleading him about his career prospects.

Another action has been launched against the bank by its former head of mergers and acquisitions, Malcolm Hiscock, who alleges ANZ did not pay him a bonus to an agreed amount.

But senior employment lawyer Rob Jackson of Kliger Partners says the recent actions do not reflect a growing trend for litigation in the Australian banking sector: "I couldn't detect any trend and in the last year there have probably been about three banking employee cases," Jackson says. "If anything, people appear not to be so keen to have a go at litigating against the banks. In Australia there's always a reluctance to sue because ... in an area of specialisation such as banking they don't want to burn their bridges. In the UK, the marketplace is so much bigger that people aren't as worried about their professional reputation."

Anthony Ayers, senior consultant at Chandler Heath Executive Recruitment, agrees that employee legal actions remain low in the banking sector: "Constructive dismissals seem to be harder under recent state and federal labour law changes. I expect all candidates seek legally binding contracts. It is important for employers and search consultants to be mindful of not creating false expectations of a role in candidates."

Banks in the US and the UK have been struck by some fairly mighty lawsuits. In the UK, Dresdner is being sued for AU$23m by a banker who claims he was wrongly sacked for not speaking German. And in the US, six women brought a huge US$1bn lawsuit against Dresdner, which the bank settled out of court in May this year.