The newspapers (specifically The Daily Mail, here) have been reporting this week on an unfair dismissal and discrimination claim that went to the Tribunal last year and underwent a Remedies hearing this week. It appears to be a quite egregious case of poor management and antiquarian attitudes.
Dr Michalak, a £90,000 a year consultant physician, joined the Pontefract General Infirmary in 2002. She then became pregnant, which certain (unspecified) doctors at the Trust were unhappy about. Secret meetings were held regarding Dr Michalak and the Tribunal found on the balance of probabilities that at these meetings the doctors agreed that they would appear to support her whilst actually attempting to engineer the end of her employment. Upon Dr Michalak’s return to work she was investigated over the alleged bullying of junior staff and suspended. Her suspension continued fully for two and a half years (!) whilst the Trust attempted to gather enough evidence to substantiate a dismissal. An independent doctor was then brought in to conduct the investigation. It was quickly realised by this doctor that the allegations against Dr Michalak were quite weak – especially since the only written complaint regarding bullying had since been withdrawn. However, in 2008 she was finally dismissed after a disciplinary hearing.
Dr Michalak brought claims of race and sex discrimination and unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal. The allegations above would probably substantiate claims of direct discrimination (less favourable treatment because Dr Michalak was Polish and a woman) and harassment (derogatory or offensive actions that had the purpose or effect of humiliating or degrading (etc) Dr Michalak. It’s clear from the facts above that both types of discrimination were not particularly difficult to prove. Dr Michalak was treated less favourably than other employees (i.e. not forced out of her job, suspended etc.) because of her previous pregnancy. Dr Michalak submitted evidence that the actions taken against her made her feel “stressed” and that her work life had been made a “living hell”. That’s a tick for the harassment claim, then. There doesn’t appear from the articles evidence of race discrimination but the Tribunal found in Dr Michalak’s favour on this point – and sex discrimination – in 2010. It’s also clear from the facts above that Dr Michalak’s dismissal was handled extraordinarily badly and that the Respondent would have found it hard to either show procedural or substantive fairness in dismissing her. The Tribunal in fact damned the Respondent, stating that the way she had been treated had “outraged” them and that the amount that she had been awarded (addressed below) was “amply justified”.
Having considered liability, the Tribunal considered compensation in the Remedies hearing. In the discrimination case Dr Michalak would have been awarded compensation for past and future lost earnings, injury to feelings, and damages for psychiatric harm caused by her maltreatment. The unfair dismissal element would have also considered past and future lost earnings but the amount would have been tempered to prevent Dr Michalak being overcompensated. The final amount (which the Daily Mail impartially describes as “staggering”) that Dr Michalak was awarded was £4.5 million. This was based on the fact that Dr Michalak would apparently never work again because of the treatment that she’d received.
So what can we take from this case? First off, employers should have rigorous equality policies enforced and that impartial and fair procedures should be followed in any investigation and disciplinary process. Failure to implement either element increases exposure to Employment Tribunal claims substantially.