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Calm down dear! Be careful what you say
The Court of Appeal has recently ruled that BAE Systems must pay a former secretary £360,000 after one of its managers made a ‘clumsy’ comment that triggered a period of mental ill-health that ended her employment.

The secretary, Marion Konczak, had worked for the company for 9 years until she was dismissed in July 2007. She was based at one of their locations near Preston and was in the liaison team that worked with officers from the Royal Saudi Air Force. Originally she had got on well with the officers but became unhappy with changes to their staff and had made claims that she had been bullied and harassed including incidents of sexual harassment.

She was moved to BAE’s commercial team at a nearby base in 2005 but she claimed that she had not been given a proper job to do and applied for a role back at the original location. Her line manager then suggested she should apply for a role within her old team. Konczak objected, saying that she was concerned that this would involve working with some of the same people she had previously raised complaints against.

She did not believe that her concerns were being taken seriously and she broke down in tears during a meeting with her line manager and a colleague. The manager went to see her afterwards, as the Court judgment describes an apparent attempt to express sympathy, “however clumsily, he said words to the effect that women take things more emotionally than men, while men tend to forget things and move on.” Konczak described the comment as the “final straw” and her lawyer said the remark had “pushed her over the edge”.

Her doctor subsequently assessed her as being unfit to work due to work-related stress. She did not return to work and BAE systems eventually dismissed her saying that it was not appropriate for her to return to her job in the commercial department and there were no other positions for her.

Although there were several hearings and the courts dismissed 15 complaints of sexual discrimination, the Employment Appeal Tribunal concluded that her dismissal had been unfair and that the 62 year old was entitled to £360,178.60 in damages partly as a result of the length of the proceedings and the way that had adversely affected her mental health.

The Court of Appeal finished this case by ruling against BAE Systems’ claim that the damages awarded against them were too high. The judge in the case indicated that where an employee is sensitive, the employer should take that into account and treat the individual accordingly.
Posted on 22 Aug 2017

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