Bank faces £1m payment to bullied worker

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One of the City's most prominent banks was facing a bill of more than £1m yesterday after a "relentless campaign of mean and spiteful behaviour" was exposed by a former worker.

Helen Green, 36, who worked as a company secretary assistant, successfully sued Deutsche Bank Group Services (UK), for turning a blind eye to "schoolyard" bullying in the "department from hell".

The High Court case is likely to reignite the debate about bullying in the macho culture of London's Square Mile.

"In fighting my case I have become more aware of what a big problem bullying is for the City," Ms Green said. "My case was not an isolated one. Not only does Deutsche Bank have to put its house in order, but all City businesses will have to do more than pay lip-service to this hidden menace."

Ms Green, who worked in the firm's secretariat division between October 1997 and October 2001, suffered a nervous breakdown after being targeted by four female colleagues who, she said, subjected her to "offensive, abusive, intimidating, denigrating, bullying, humiliating, patronising, infantile and insulting words and behaviour".

She said she was delighted her "long and painful battle" had come to an end as she was awarded £35,000 for pain and suffering, £25,000 in respect of her disadvantage on the labour market, £128,000 for past loss of earnings and about £630,000 for future loss of earnings including pension.

The bank will also have to pay her legal costs, with an interim payment of £350,000.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Owen said: "The management was weak and ineffectual. The managers collectively closed their eyes to what was going on, no doubt in the hope that the problem would go away.

"Furthermore, the claimant was a person who, to the knowledge of the defendant, had suffered depression in the relatively recent past and had been prescribed anti-depressant medication. She was, therefore, to their knowledge, more vulnerable than the population at large."

The trial heard that Ms Green, from east London, had been "stonewalled" by four colleagues - Valerie Alexander, the manager of the insurance division; Fiona Gregg, her personal assistant; Daniella Dolbear, a telephone directory administrator; and Jenny Dixon, a PA - from the moment she joined.

One day, she was working alone when the women trooped in. Ms Dolbear asked the others: "What's that stink over there?", and put her hand over her nose. "Daniella was shouting and saying, 'You stink', and that sort of loud behaviour and laughing in my face and blowing raspberries," Ms Green said.

She added that the bullying continued until it got to the point where she would just sit at her desk and cry, but colleagues told her it had happened before and the group would get bored and move on. "Everyone has to take their turn," one manager told another bullied colleague. Ms Green's former personal assistant, Clare McCall, said it was the "department from hell".

Ms Green was promoted twice, but then received stress counselling in March 2000, and assertiveness training.Eight months later she suffered a nervous breakdown and was admitted to hospital, where she was placed on suicide watch. In April that year she resumed full-time work but suffered a relapse in October. Her job was kept open for her until September 2003, when her employment was terminated.

Deutsche Bank, which said it had yet to decide whether to appeal, denied breach of statutory duty and that she was bullied.

City payouts

* 2000 Deutsche Bank paid the investment banker Kay Swinburne, 32, an undisclosed sum, rumoured to be £1m, after she accused them of failing to protect her from sexual discrimination.

* 2002 The City analyst Julie Bower, 35, won a £1.4m pay-out from the investment bank Schroder Securities because her bonus was 10 times smaller than those given to male colleagues.

* 2004 Elizabeth Weston, 29, a lawyer, won a £1m payout after an executive at Merrill Lynch made remarks about her breasts at an office Christmas party. The firm settled without admitting liability.

* 2004 Morgan Stanley paid $54m (£30m) in New York to settle charges brought by female employees that it denied pay rises and promotions to women, excluded them from events and subjected them to lewd behaviour.

* 2006 Peter Lewis, 45, a former HSBC global head of equity trading, claimed he was dismissed for being gay. He lost, but HSBC was found guilty on four counts of discrimination over its discipline of Mr Lewis. He is to appeal.