£1.5m for woman paid an 'insulting' low bonus

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The Independent Online

A city analyst who was paid an "insultingly low" bonus compared with male colleagues in her firm and then forced out of her £120,000-a-year job was awarded almost £1.5m in compensation yesterday.

Julie Bower, a drinks-sector analyst, got what she thought was a "lousy" annual bonus of £25,000 in 1999, while her two male peers at Schroder Securities were awarded £440,000 and £650,000 respectively.

Mrs Bower, an Oxford graduate, claimed that she was forced to resign from the investment bank in October 1999 and found it difficult to find another job within her field. she also said that the discrimination brought on a drastic change in her lifestyle.

During the hearing, Mrs Bower had revealed how the resignation had devastated her life. "I don't have any income now. My dismissal and inability to get a job has meant that I have been forced to move out of Pimlico in London to live more cheaply in Oxford. I have been visiting the job centre there and have had to claim state benefits."

Mrs Bower is married with two sons. She took the company to an industrial tribunal last year and won her case of unfair dismissal and sex discrimination. Yesterday, she was awarded £1,412,823 at the end of a four-day compensation hearing.

During the first tribunal, Mrs Bower wept as she explained how she had raised the problems of bonuses with the firm several times but her boss had become increasingly "threatening and sarcastic".

The hearing was told that Mrs Bower had been written off in a company meeting about her future. Heather Williams, representing Mrs Bower, told the hearing how bosses at the investment bank described the analyst as having "had cancer, been a pain, now pregnant", in the minutes of a meeting about her position.

The tribunal had ruled that her bonus was "insultingly low", that it had been "picked from the air" as part of a deliberate ploy to drive her out, and that she would not have been treated as she was by her boss "but for the fact that she was a woman".

The panel agreed the bonus she received was not the market rate for an analyst and did not reflect her performance. Moreover, it branded the bonus process as "lacking in transparency" and condemned the "laddish or sexist air" of some of the corporate entertainment at the company. This included visits to lap-dancing clubs.

The chairwoman at yesterday's hearing, Vivian Gay, said that Mrs Bower had been subjected to personal attacks not only while working at the firm but in evidence given by Schroders at the tribunal. She said: "We have accepted that the discrimination which Mrs Bower suffered has had a real long-term effect. She has been subjected to bad-mouthing and false criticism even in this tribunal. She has been undermined in the very area of work of which she was proud."

The panel ruled that the £25,000 bonus awarded in 1999 ­ later increased to £50,000 ­ should have been £170,000. It also discussed bonuses, salary, pension contributions and car allowances that Mrs Bower could have expected up to the present day.

Mrs Bower said: "The way Schroders dealt with my complaints was completely unacceptable and I hope no one else ever has to go through the same sort of thing again."

Schroders is appealing against the tribunal's findings at a hearing in June. Meanwhile, Mrs Bower hopes to take a doctorate in cross-border competition in the drinks industry.