Victory for lawyer in sex bias legal fight

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The Independent Online

A City lawyer has won the latest round in her legal battle to secure the biggest pay-out on record for sex discrimination.

Gill Switalski, 52, is claiming £12m from F&C Asset Management for forcing her out of a job in September 2007 through bullying. The company had asked for earlier rulings to be reviewed on grounds that she misled managers, faking a nervous breakdown to get a larger pay-off.

But the employment tribunal rejected its challenge, paving the way for Ms Switalski to be awarded record damages.Ms Switalski said her fight had affected her health.

She told BBC News: "Part of me is obviously delighted but another part of me has some trepidation because F&C just simply won't accept what they've done. They're already talking about an appeal and if you take into account the 18 months that I had of bullying and harassment this has been going on since October 2004 and it's had a serious impact on my health."

She claimed that she was treated unfairly at the company despite making "significant bonuses".

A London tribunal heard that when manager Marrack Tomkin joined the company he began to question her flexible working hours, holidays and expenses. He became "fixated" with her working hours, designed to give her more time with her family, and checked up on her via colleagues, despite the fact she hit her targets.

Ms Switalski has four children, including a son with cerebral palsy and another with Asperger's syndrome. The tribunal heard Ms Switalski's deputy was selected instead of her for the task of securing a hedge fund and she was overlooked for management roles.

But, her lawyer said, a male colleague who had children with special needs was allowed to work from home to care for them.

F&C presented new evidence to the tribunal last month, saying Mrs Switalski faked a nervous breakdown as an "exit strategy" to secure a larger pay-off by citing loss of earnings.

The tribunal heard that, while she had claimed she was so unfit to work she could not "read a newspaper", she had secured a £160,000 job at a rival company, which she turned down on health grounds.

Arpita Dutt, an employment law expert at Russell Jones & Walker, said that Ms Switalski's claim reflected the disadvantage she faced of finding employment at or near her level: "It is an important victory for Ms Switalski. It is difficult enough to win once, but to win a sex discrimination claim twice over is in itself an unusual feature of this claim."