Literacy worker wins huge pay-out

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
Damages for bullied employee who says colleagues ignored her plight. George Wright reports.

A DEPRESSED literacy worker who was forced to quit after being "harangued and bullied" by a manager has won "substantial" damages.

Pauline Foley, 51, was awarded the pay-out after an employment tribunal upheld her complaints of disability discrimination and unfair dismissal against the London borough of Enfield.

The amount she received is subject to a court order and cannot be revealed.

The tribunal found that Peter Bath, one of her line managers, subjected her to "a course of harassment" when she was receiving psychiatric care at a local hospital following the death of her mother.

She was called "pathetic", told her behaviour was not normal, and subjected to "unremitting" references to her absences through sickness.

The incidents took place in January and February 2001, some 15 months into Mrs Foley's work as an administrator for Enfield's literacy team.

The tribunal also found that Deborah Thompson, Mrs Foley's other manager, failed to take up complaints against Mr Bath because she thought they were "a symptom of depression". Instead of being offered arbitration or counselling, Mrs Foley was called into a meeting with her alleged harasser, causing her further distress and culminating in her resignation.

Enfield finally settled the claim last week, following a five-day tribunal last summer and a second hearing in March over costs and damages.

Mrs Foley was represented throughout by her husband John, an accountant, who researched employment law on the internet and in books.

She is now on sickness benefit and says she is unlikely to work again. She was relieved the trauma was over but felt "severely let down" by her former employer.

Mrs Foley said: "I have always suffered from depression but it has never stopped me doing my job. I am a hard worker and was pleased with the way things were going at Enfield until this trouble started.

"It was a complete nightmare. The worst thing wasn't the bullying but the fact that I sought help from other staff and they ignored my pleas.

"The people I was working with simply closed ranks because I complained.

They refused to speak to me or even to acknowledge me. They acted as though they thought I was mad. I went through the proper channels but the council refused to act, so I was forced to take legal action.

"It was a shattering experience. The settlement I received will simply enable me to survive over the next few years. Hopefully one day I will be able to go back to work, but I can't see it at the moment."

Enfield Council said this week it found no evidence that Mrs Foley's line manager deliberately attempted to bully or in any other way harass her. A spokesman said Mr Bath had "failed to recognise and consequently misinterpreted" the symptoms of stress being demonstrated by Mrs Foley.

"This was due to a lack of adequate training at the time rather than an unwillingness to address Mrs Foley's concerns," according to a spokesman.

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