More than 100 London bankers have won their claim for £42m in unpaid bonuses against Germany's Commerzbank in the High Court. At least five are set to collect payouts in excess of £1m for bonuses promised just before the financial crisis.
The 104 investment banking staff claimed their former employer, Dresdner Kleinwort, now owned by Commerzbank, should pay the bonuses which were guaranteed in August 2008. Commerzbank failed to persuade the court the bonuses were discretionary, rather than a contractual obligation.
The ruling, by Mr Justice Owen, is a blow to the German banking giant, headed by chief executive Martin Blessing. Commerzbank immediately said it would appeal – a decision that angered the bankers because Mr Blessing had previously indicated that he would accept the court's ruling.
Mr Justice Owen said: "The issue in this case arose within a narrow ambit that concerns the nature and existence of contractual obligations owed to the claimants by their employer. This did not concern the wider issues of the structure of remuneration within the banking industry."
Clive Zietman, head of commercial litigation at Stewarts Law, who represented 83 of the bankers, said: "In our view it was quite wrong of the bank to renege on its commitment. By doing so, it acted contrary to well-established principles of English contract and employment law. It would be a pity if this case were to continue since it would seem to us that the only beneficiaries of further action will be the lawyers, not the parties," he added.
The 83 bankers are due around £28m, plus interest. The biggest claimants include Jonathan Powell, who was due £1.336m, Jeremy Thomas £1.282m, Ian Robertson £1.206m, Steven Garrett £1.156m and Amir Berberian £1.03m.
The bankers claimed Stefan Jentzsch, then chief executive of Dresdner Kleinwort, promised that a €400m (£321m) bonus pot had been set aside. Dresdner wanted to prevent a staff exodus just before the global banking industry went into meltdown.