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Healthcare Sector

Doctor wins compensation following discrimination

Employment Law & HR update 20/12/2012

A female doctor who suffered discrimination during her work at Pontefract General Infirmary has been awarded a compensation pay-out.

The £4.5 million award – which is thought to be the largest to be paid out following a discrimination case in the UK – was due to race and sex discrimination.

Dr Eva Michalak was the victim of a "concerted campaign" by her colleagues at the hospital to end her employment whilst she was on maternity leave.

A Leeds tribunal heard that senior staff members plotted to force her out when she was seven months pregnant. They held secret meetings to discuss plans and Dr Michalak, an obstetrician, was then accused of bullying junior doctors. Her competency was also questioned by colleagues due to her Polish origin and training.

The doctor was then forced to endure a "lengthy and wholly unauthorised period of suspension" before she was disciplined in May 2007. Her dismissal was finalised in July 2008.

Following the tribunal, the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust and senior staff members have been told to pay the doctor £4,452,206.60 as a result of the discrimination. They have also apologised to Dr Michalak.

The tribunal panel called the disciplinary procedure used by the hospital trust "bogus", saying that Dr Michalak was dismissed "for no good or justifiable reason."

Commenting on the record payout, Nick Soret of Mentor said "This case really shows the risks employers face if they are found to have committed unlawful discrimination against any of their employees.

Compensation in discrimination cases is unlimited, so there is no ceiling on payouts. But the compensation awarded in this case is unusually high because it compensated Dr Michalak, a doctor with potential large future earnings both in the NHS and privately, for lost earnings for the remainder of her career, which was ruined by the discrimination.

The case is also unusual because most high compensation payouts for discrimination have been in the banking sector - where earnings are also high - and such cases are often settled without going to a full tribunal hearing. It certainly shows that employment tribunals are prepared to use their full powers in certain cases.

It is also interesting that the case happened within the NHS - a large public sector body with strict equality policies, but presumably these were not sufficient to prevent senior people within the organisation committing the most serious acts of discrimination. Simple things such as ensuring all staff grievances are treated seriously, investigated properly, and appropriate follow-up action is taken will prevent things spiralling out of control as appears to have happened in this case".

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