Sex discrimination case costs NHS £1.4m – a lesson to put policy into practice

Posted on: March 5th, 2016

An Employment Tribunal has awarded an NHS HR manager £832,711. The Tribunal found that the employee had been constructively dismissed, victimised and harassed after she was subjected to sexual advances from the NHS Trust’s chairman. The case in total cost the NHS over £1.4 million.

In 2010 Mrs Marks, who was the NHS HR manager at Derbyshire Healthcare NHS trust, began having lunch with Mr Baines, the Chairman of the Trust, and they became close friends.

In March 2012 Mr Baines invited Mrs Marks to the pub to congratulate her on her upcoming wedding: Mr Baines kissed her and told her he loved her, which ‘surprised’ Mrs Marks. Mrs Marks tried to cool the relationship when it became clear Mr Baines wanted it to become sexual. Mr Baines left long letters on Mrs Marks’ desk asking her to have an intimate relationship.

In March 2013 Mr Baines sent Mrs Marks a text calling her a ‘whore’ when he became jealous of her friendship with another colleague. Mrs Marks commented that at this point ‘the situation was becoming increasingly difficult’ specifically as she had not told her husband about her friendship with Mr Baines. A few weeks later Mr Baines warned Mrs Marks that he ‘intended to humiliate her’.

The Trust then received a complaint about Mrs Marks, at which point Mr Baines was said to be ‘delighted’. Mr Baines arranged for the Trust’s Chief Executive to suspend Mrs Marks over the allegations that she had bullied staff. Mrs Marks was not aware that Mr Baines had initiated her suspension and so she continued to respond to his text messages while she was suspended. Mr Baines wrote a text to Mrs Marks during her suspension stating; “I am your devoted lover and friend so please never let me go again. If you do that will destroy me emotionally. I have never had a relationship like this so please keep me close to you Helen. Love you. Xxxx”. Mr Baines also visited Mrs Marks at her home where he told her he missed her and suggested they go upstairs and lie down.

In September 2013 Mrs Marks discovered that Mr Baines had been involved in her suspension. She then raised a grievance about his behaviour towards her, including allegations of sexual harassment. Mr Baines resigned. The Chief Executive of the Trust has also since resigned as a result of the part he played in this case, although not before being suspended on full pay for seven months, at a cost to the NHS of £90,000. Mrs Marks was not satisfied with the Trust’s handling of her grievance or Mr Baines’ resignation and so she resigned and brought claims of constructive dismissal and sex discrimination.

The Tribunal concluded that Mr Baines had clearly abused his position of authority and that his actions followed after Mrs Marks rejected his sexual advances. The Employment Tribunal awarded Mrs Marks compensation and concluded that she had been unfairly dismissed, sexually discriminated against, harassed and victimised. The Tribunal stated Mrs Marks had been ‘harassed’ by Mr Baines in an attempt to ‘violate her dignity and create an intimidating, hostile and offensive environment for her’.

It is worth remembering that although the number of Employment Tribunal claims has decreased significantly; those cases which do end up at the Employment Tribunal, and where the Tribunal finds the employer at fault, often involve large pay outs.

This case highlights that it is not enough to simply have a diversity and inclusion policy: it is vital that managers and employees understand it. Providing training to staff in a managerial position is important to ensure discrimination does not take place. The case also serves as a reminder to make sure grievances are properly investigated and the procedure correctly followed.