Expensive Sexist Comment


The Court of Appeal confirms compensation of over £360,000 to a former secretary at BAE Systems

BEA Systems (Operations) Ltd v Marion Konczak at the Court of Appeal – click here for the judgment

Does anyone remember the original case, back in 2008? Probably not, because at the original tribunal Ms Konczak, a secretary at BAE Systems who had been off work with stress, did win her case of unfair dismissal and obviously the dismissal had caused a great deal of stress, but she was only awarded a little over £30k. She appealed and after a long running saga the award was increased to over £360k (around 13 years’ salary) in what must appear to be the most expensive sexist comment ever. Not surprisingly BAE have taken this all the way to the Court of appeal claiming that the award was excessive. However, this week Lord Justice Underhill has said, while he gave his ruling, that the “tribunal’s reasoning is perfectly clear; and it is in my view equally clear that it is sustainable”.  So BAE must pay the award and no doubt have a hefty legal bill to go with it.

While BAE can probably lose £360k without major damage to the business, there will be plenty of other  firms that would end up bankrupt with this sort of award of compensation. So what was the terrible injustice that befell Ms Konczak? Her boss had said “women take things more emotionally than men while men tend to forget things and move on” – this single discriminatory comment is said to have pushed the Claimant over the edge and caused her stress and psychiatric injury.

The link to the Court of Appeal judgment is at the head of this piece, but the basic story is that Ms Konczak, who had worked for BEA from 1998 to 2007, had made some complaints about bullying while working at a particular site, so she was moved to another, but she wasn’t happy at the new site, this is back in 2005. So in 2006 her manager made the suggestion that she went back to her original posting, but when Ms Konczak complained the manager made the fateful comment – this was apparently the last straw and Ms Konczak went off work with stress. However, when she started to get better, a year or so later, she wanted to return to work and her employer refused to allow this and instead they dismissed her. So while the comment, no doubt, was the root cause of the issue BAE Systems haven’t covered themselves in glory over the dismissal either. With this as with all cases there are two sides to the story and the barrister who represented Ms Konczak, Tristan Jones of Blackstone Chambers, has written an altogether more erudite summary of the relevant part of the judgment and how this ruling may affect future cases. Tristan’s summary can be found by clicking here.

From an employer’s point of view the case clearly demonstrates that there is a need for all staff, no matter how senior, to undertake diversity training and to actually implement their diversity policies.

If your business does not have a diversity policy, if you would like your staff to be trained on diversity or if you would like to discuss our insured retainer scheme – Premier Total Cover, please call us on: 0845 070 0505 or at the Nottingham Head Office on: 0115 988 6211