Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has won a court case brought against it by one of its top executives, alleging her role at the NOK15trn (€1.3trn) organisation had been wrongly changed and that she had been underpaid compared to men for 10 years.

After hearing the case involving 17 witnesses in Oslo’s district court between 12 April and 5 May, a trio of judges ruled yesterday that Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM) – the manager of the Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) – was acquitted.

NBIM was being sued by Elisabeth Bull Daae, head of trading analytics, for a range of complaints about her treatment as an employee.

According to court documents, she alleged that assessments by NBIM about a conflict of interest linked to her relationship with a colleague had been unlawful, that her subsequent re-assignment within the organisation was invalid and that she had been discriminated against in pay on the basis of gender for the past ten years.

Judges Lili Noelle Sverdrup, Atlé Marius Eriksen and Linn Veronica Blindheim Andersen ruled in NBIM’s favour on all counts, according to the 64-page written judgement document.

Bull Daae has been ordered to pay NBIM’s legal costs of NOK1.9m within 14 days, and will have her own legal costs too.

The case, which has been public knowledge since February, has exposed many details of the personal and professional relationships at the heart of the organisation behind the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund.

A spokeswoman for NBIM commented to IPE yesterday on the judgement: “This is a sad case, but we have always maintained that there was no factual or legal basis for the lawsuit.

“We are pleased that the court has come to the same conclusion,” she said.

Although the judges ruled in favour of NBIM, their judgement did contain some criticism of the central bank arm.

Nicolai Tangen, NBIM’s chief executive officer, was taken to task for having said in his testimony that Bull Daae had been the cause of working environment problems in NBIM’s asset strategies department, and that he had not previously experienced that one person had “created so much stress for so many people over so long a time”.

Elisabeth Bull Daae at NBIM court

Source: E24

Elisabeth Bull Daae during court proceedings

Andersen believed, according to the judgement, that as the top manager of NBIM, it amounted to harassment to describe an employee for many years in such a way in open court with an audience and press present.

The other two judges did not believe Tangen’s behaviour could be characterised as harassment, however, but did say they understood it had been hard for Bull Daae to hear him say what he did.

“The court believes that it was unnecessary to characterise the case in this way, considering that Bull Daae has been on sick leave since 9 November 2021 and has obviously been in a difficult situation over time, even if the responsibility for that should not be placed with NBIM,” the judges said.

Anderson also made a point in the judgement that transparency about pay helped reveal any biases and created a fairer working environment – and that NBIM had fallen short in this respect.

“By involving and engaging the employees in the work on equal pay in line with the Equality and Discrimination Act § 26 employer’s duty of activity and, for example, regular review of pay differences internally, this case would probably have been avoided,” she said.

NBIM’s spokeswoman said, regarding the whole case: “We will now spend time properly reviewing the verdict and find learning where we can.

“We also look forward to putting the case behind us and moving forward,” she said.

Bull Daae’s lawyer, Sigurd Knudtzon, of the Oslo-based firm Wahl-Larsen, told IPE that his side disagreed with the court’s emphasis on fact.

“Many of Elisabeth’s arguments that have central legal significance are not shown in the judgement, so our opinion is that the court’s assessment of the evidence is wrong,” he said.

“The court has also concluded that Norges Bank has a lot to deal with,” he said.

Knudzon said that on a general basis, the judgement showed it was “very difficult for an employee to fight for their democratic rights against an employer with unlimited resources”.

“This applies particularly in cases dealing with equal pay for work of equal value,” he said.

After the trial was heard in Oslo, Bull Daae received a letter from NBIM with advance notice of her dismissal, according to Norwegian news service E24.

The Norges Bank arm reportedly wrote that it considered the relationship and the working relationship to be “broken, and without the prospect of being repaired”.

Read the digital edition of IPE’s latest magazine