News

Consultant is awarded £4.5m for race and sex discrimination

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d8265 (Published 20 December 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d8265
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

A consultant physician who was subjected to a concerted exercise to get rid of her by managers and senior clinicians at the NHS trust that employed her has been awarded a record compensation payout for discrimination of nearly £4.5m (€5.4m; $7m).

An employment tribunal awarded Eva Michalak, who qualified in Poland, the record sum for sex and race discrimination that wrecked her career and left her with enduring psychiatric injuries and unable to work again.

The award follows findings by the Leeds Employment Tribunal last year that Mid-Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust and three named employees of the trust were guilty of sex and race discrimination for their parts in her suspension and dismissal on the basis of complaints that were later shown to be without justification.

Dr Michalak, now 53, started work at the end of April 2002 at Pontefract General Infirmary as a consultant physician with a specific interest in nephrology. She became pregnant and took maternity leave a year after taking up the post.

Colleagues were unhappy about having to take on extra work in the medical admissions unit, and the trust gave them a boost in pay as a result, although a locum was appointed and there was actually little extra work. When Dr Michalak returned to work she asked for the extra pay and claimed that she was being discriminated against when it was refused.

The tribunal said that raising issues about payments that senior employees in the trust knew to be unjustified, particularly when the trust was in special measures after being criticised for poor financial management, must have caused “anger and apprehension.”

Dr Michalak was initially investigated for allegedly bullying junior doctors, but when these allegations did not stand up a decision was taken to trawl for further complaints. After a lengthy suspension from January 2006, which the tribunal found was “improper,” she faced a range of allegations at a disciplinary panel and was dismissed in July 2008.

In the event, the only allegations of any substance concerned two incidents involving her secretary, the tribunal said. Any sensible employer would have dealt with these by having a quiet word with Dr Michalak, who would no doubt have apologised as soon as she realised she had caused her secretary distress.

The tribunal, which was “positively outraged” by the trust’s behaviour, found David Dawson, the trust’s former medical director, Colin White, Dr Michalak’s line manager, and Dianne Nichols, director of human resources, to be guilty of sex and race discrimination, along with the trust itself. Dr Dawson was “a self-acknowledged liar,” and Mrs Nicholls had told “a number of deliberate falsehoods” in a witness statement for the High Court, the tribunal added in its judgment. Dr White took “a leading part” in coordinating complaints against Dr Michalak.

The tribunal found it “astonishing” that the three (of four) members of the disciplinary panel who gave evidence at the tribunal could not say what events had justified her dismissal.

Paul Daniels, an employment partner at the law firm Russell Jones & Walker, said, “The award is so high due to a ‘perfect storm’ of factors, including a serious case of sex and race discrimination; the claimant suffering a devastating psychiatric illness, preventing her from ever working again, and even requiring a personal carer; together with the loss of a very well paid medical job and pension at a relatively young age. The tribunal found there were a number of deliberate falsehoods and lies by the trust witnesses.”

Julia Squire, the trust’s chief executive, said, “We have unreservedly apologised to Dr Michalak for mistakes of the past, and I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that apology in public.

“We took last year’s tribunal judgment extremely seriously and immediately had an independent review carried out. This found no evidence of widespread discrimination across the trust and has helped us shape further improvements to ensure that what happened in the past is never repeated in the future.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d8265

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