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Comment to secretary costs defence firm £360,000 compensation

A court has ordered BAE systems to pay out £360,000 to a secretary after a manager told her that women are more emotional about things than men.

A tribunal hearing had instructed the arms manufacturer to make the compensation payment to Marion Konczak in 2014. However, the firm lodged an appeal claiming the judgement was excessive and ‘an affront to justice’. The court of appeal heard that the ‘clumsy’ comment followed a number of other remarks. These comments caused Mrs Konczak ill-health and resulted in the end of her employment. Three senior judges ruled that Mrs Konczak deserved the pay out after the manager’s comment pushed her into a breakdown.

Careless remarks

Initially, Mrs Konczak went to her supervisor to complain about bullying and harassment, including sexual, while working on a project for the RAF. However, her supervisor told her that men have a tendency to forget things and move on, whereas women often take things more emotionally. Following this, Mrs Konczak went on sick leave with stress, before the firm sacked her. She took her employers to tribunal which upheld the complaint of sexual discrimination relating to the manager’s comment.

Unfair dismissal

The tribunal hearing agreed that this was a case of unfair dismissal. After a lengthy legal battle, Mrs Konczak received an award of £360,178.60 in compensation in October 2014. The tribunal made no other findings regarding 15 other allegations.

BAE’s legal team challenged the award, arguing that to blame all of Mrs Konczak’s psychiatric problems on just one comment “offended against all logic”. BAE’s QC claimed that the many negative and stressful workplace events that Mrs Konczak had experienced, could have resulted in her illness. He added that evidence showed Mrs Konczak already suffered with a mental health condition before the comment was made by the manager.

10-year legal battle

Three appeal judges have ruled that the tribunal’s original finding while generous, was not perverse and that the manager’s comment plunged Mrs Konczak into a mental breakdown. Appeal judges also criticised the case’s ‘extraordinary’ history, which saw the dispute include eight tribunal hearings since 2007. BAE Systems has lost its legal appeal to reduce the £360,000 compensation pay out.

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