Drinks case executive loses

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The Independent Online
A television executive yesterday lost his High Court damages claim against a company doctor who said he should not get the job he had been offered because of his drinking habits.

The judge ruled that Peter Baker had failed to establish that Dr Georges Kaye was negligent or in breach of his duty to carry out a proper assessment of his health. Deputy judge Robert Owen QC said he was satisfied that a substantial body of reasonable medical opinion would have arrived at the same conclusion as Dr Kaye that Mr Baker was "likely to consume excessive amounts of alcohol in a work-related context".

Mr Baker, 53, of Great Bookham, Surrey, was head-hunted by the American television corporation NBC in 1991 for the pounds 45,000-a-year post as European head of international sales. He felt he had virtually got the job and sent a resignation letter to his existing employers, but was turned down by NBC on Dr Kaye's recommendation.

Dr Kaye, of Kensington, west London, had told the judge he did not label Mr Baker an alcoholic, but assessed him as a "spree drinker". He concluded from his interview with Mr Baker and subsequent blood liver tests that he was likely to consume excessive amounts of alcohol in the discharge of his professional duties "to the extent that the sharpness of his thought processes would be affected".

The doctor said he regarded Mr Baker's self-reported intake of less than four bottles of table wine per week - 35 units of alcohol - as a "substantial underestimate".

Mr Baker called expert evidence that the blood-test results could have been the result of other factors, such as being overweight. And the judge heard evidence that 35 units or more was within the level that many business people consumed in a week.

But the judge said Mr Baker knew the job offer was conditional on the medical assessment and he "jumped the gun" in resigning prematurely from Guild Television.

The court had heard evidence from the former medical director of NBC's parent company, General Electric of New York, that the corporation's "culture" did not prohibit the use of alcohol, but over the years it had become less tolerant of it.

The judge said Dr Kaye had a duty to judge Mr Baker with reasonable care according to the company's requirements, but he also owed a similar duty to Mr Baker. Dr Kaye's interpretation of the test results showed he took a cautious approach - a decision not to recommend someone for employment was never made lightly and was very rare - and the judge said he was not satisfied the doctor was in breach of his duty. Mr Baker was ordered to pay the estimated pounds 50,000 costs of the case.