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The Independent Online

One of the most senior women in British engineering is to take two court actions against Vickers, her former employer, claiming wrongful dismissal and sexual discrimination.

Sue Wilson, who earned about pounds 90,000, a year, was personnel and quality director at Vickers Defence Systems, the group's tank-making subsidiary, which has factories in Newcastle and Leeds.

A leading member of the business community in the north-east, Ms Wilson, 43, was closely involved with the Engineering Employers' Federation and is married to Ian Gibson, chief executive of Nissan Motor Manufacturing.

Denise Kingsmill, Ms Wilson's solicitor, said an industrial tribunal application alleging unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination had been lodged. Although claims for unfair dismissal are normally limited to maximum compensation of pounds 11,000, there is no limit for sexual or racial discrimination.

A second application, to be presented to the High Court, claiming damages for wrongful dismissal, is likely to centre on a claim that Ms Wilson's redundancy compensation was worked out on her pounds 51,000 basic salary, not her pounds 90,000 "package" of bonus, car and other benefits.

"This is an important case because she is a very senior and successful woman with a track record in heavy industry," Ms Kingsmill said.

"She has toughed it out in engineering for 21 years and knows all about the slings and arrows of corporate life. She can distinguish between them and real discrimination."

Ms Wilson has been advised not to talk publicly about the case. But it is known that her departure last December followed disagreements with John Crowther, the new chief executive.

Ms Wilson had been with the company since 1986, and was promoted to the board in 1990. A "macho" corporate culture was said to have been prevalent and to have led to conflict. Her job, in which she was responsible for 1,600 employees, has since been split between a personnel manager and a director.

Since leaving Vickers, Ms Wilson has been appointed chief executive of the Newcastle Initiative, a government-sponsored partnership with private industry to promote development.

She is a member of the Employment Appeals Tribunal and a former member of the Newcastle industrial tribunals panel.

A recent survey by the Institute of Directors found that fewer than 5 per cent of managers and directors were women. Overall in industry, 2.8 per cent of directors and 9.5 per cent of managers are women.

Vickers Defence Systems said that it was "not appropriate" to comment.