City bank admits errors in sacking female executive

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The Independent Online
A LEADING City bank admitted yesterday it had behaved unfairly when it sacked a senior manager who claims she was dismissed for trying to juggle her job and family.

Aisling Sykes, 39, is bringing a case against her former employer, JP Morgan, for unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination, claims the company continues to dispute. However, at the Central London Employment Tribunal yesterday, Peter Clews, the bank's vice-president in charge of employee relations, said the manner in which Mrs Sykes was dismissed did not meet fair dismissal requirements. Under cross-examination from Mrs Sykes' legal team he said: "We accept, on procedural issues, that this was unfair dismissal. The reason we are here is that we feel very strongly this was not sexual discrimination."

He insisted that most of the 130 others made redundant at the same time had received identical treatment to Mrs Sykes. "The manner of dismissal was in accordance with standard bank policy," he said, adding that procedures had since been changed.

Mrs Sykes, who is believed to have been earning a six- figure salary as a senior vice-president, was dismissed without warning on 4 November 1998 when pregnant with her fourth child. Her identity card and credit cards were taken from her and she was told her belongings would be collected by someone else.

The tribunal was told earlier that Mrs Sykes believed she had been given an increasing amount of work to test whether her family commitments would get in the way. She said she had been ordered to work through her first baby's Christmas and that she had been sacked because her outside responsibilities meant she could not work the 14-hour days expected of her at the bank.

Yesterday Mr Clews told the court that two-thirds of JP Morgan's 3,400 London employees were male and that the proportion rose to 75 per cent among its most senior management. He added: "JP Morgan has a strong commitment to equal opportunities. We do not simply pay lip service to this. We were listed among the top 100 companies by Working Mother magazine in the US."

The bank operated a policy of flexible working hours, despite rejection of Mrs Sykes' repeated request to work more from her home in west London.

The bank produced 80 documents from the former vice-president's personal e-mail and computer files. Among them were a variety of personal messages dealing with matters such as child care, ordering chandeliers from Spain and sorting out a holiday in Barbados. Under cross-examination from Ingrid Simler, representing Mrs Sykes, Mr Clews agreed he could not prove this was a "high volume" compared with other bank employees.

Later, Daphne Romney, acting for JP Morgan, clarified the position concerning Mr Clews' comments on unfair dismissal. She told the tribunal that procedurally it had been unfair dismissal but it was not proven to be substantive unfair dismissal.

The tribunal continues.