May 14th, 2009

Helen Green Wins Court Victory – UK

British Worker Awarded £800,000 (US$1.5 million) in Bullying Payout
August 2, 2006

A City (London) worker has won £800,000 in damages from Deutsche Bank in a landmark workplace bullying case. The award is said by legal experts to be particularly high and likely to be appealed.

High Court judge Justice Owen said that the campaign at the secretariat division of the international banking firm Deutsche Bank Group Services (UK) Ltd. against Helen Green involved a “relentless campaign of mean and spiteful behaviour designed to cause her distress” that left Green on some occasions crying silently at her desk. She worked there from 1997 to 2001.

Owen awarded her a total of $1.5 million for pain and suffering and loss of past and future earnings. He also ordered the bank to pay her legal costs, beginning with an interim payment of $650,000.

The largest part of the award is the £640,000 awarded for future loss of earnings and a pension, and it is this portion which marks the case out as unusual.

“We have seen cases like this before a number of times but the court has awarded such a large amount because it took the view that this person would not be able to work at this salary level for a long time in the future,” said Tom Potbury, a lawyer specialising in employment law at Pinsent Masons.

Green, 36, had said she was subjected to “offensive, abusive, intimidating, denigrating, bullying, humiliating, patronizing, infantile and insulting words and behavior” and subjected to crude and lewd comments from her former colleagues. Her colleagues would move her papers, hide her post and remove her from document circulation lists. She alleged that some of the colleagues had ignored and excluded her, that her personal and professional authority was undermined, and her workload increased to unreasonable and arbitrary levels.

Her lawyer said medical experts on both sides of the case agreed that Green developed a major depressive disorder, but there was disagreement about its cause.

Deutsche Bank said it had not breached its duties to Green and denied that she was bullied, saying she had had a predisposition to mental illness. Deutsche Bank paid for stress counselling and assertiveness training for Green but she had a nervous breakdown before returning to work and suffering a relapse.

“The best way for companies to deal with workplace bullying is to have a clear policy in place and to make sure that employees know about it,” said Potbury. “The policy then has to be enforced. If someone complains it is important that the employer does not sweep it under the carpet,” he said. “That is the best way of protecting yourself against claims. You can better defend yourself if you can show that you have done everything you can.”

Green said she was delighted by the ruling, adding that she had learned bullying was a problem throughout London’s financial world. “My case was not an isolated one,” she said. “At the trial the court heard evidence about other victims. Not only does Deutsche Bank have to put its house in order, but all City (finance) businesses will have to do more than pay lip-service to this hidden menace.”

A Deutsche Bank statement said that “No decision about whether to appeal has been made at this stage”.

Part of Green’s case was argued under the Protection from Harassment Act, a 1997 anti-stalker law that is beginning to be used in employment cases. A House of Lords ruling last month permitted its use in employment cases, and the law differs substantially from existing employment legislation.

“I don’t think anyone imagined when the law was made that it would be used against employers,” said Potbury. “Employers have no real defence against this law. If an employee is harassed at work on more than one occasion they can be liable and there is nothing they can do about it.”

In the case on which the Lords ruled, the NHS (National Health Service) was vicariously liable for the harassment of employee William Majrowski, even though it was not guilty of causing the behaviour or of failing to prevent it. Previously, employees had to prove that the employer had been negligent in preventing bullying, but that is no longer the case.

Though the award will concern other City financial institutions, Potbury said that the problem of bullying at work was very real but very widespread. “It is a problem, but it is not confined to City firms. People get bullied at work everywhere, though the City is a higher stress culture than other workplaces,” he said. “This will make other City firms make sure they are doing everything they can to avoid this.”


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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 14th, 2009 at 2:17 pm and is filed under Bullying & Health, Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things, Rulings by Courts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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