Record discrimination award of £4.5 million for Polish Doctor
The case of Dr. Ewa Michalak which was widely reported in the press before Christmas shows that a devasastating effect that bullying and harassment can have.
Polish born Dr. Michalak was employed as a Consultant Obstetrician at the Pontefract Hospital in Yorkshire. She was the first Consultant at the hospital to take maternity leave. The evidence showed that secret meetings were held, starting when she was seven months pregnant, in which senior members of staff agreed to find cause to end her employment while appearing to support her. This campaign against her involved a string of false allegations of bullying junior doctors being made against her. Additionally, it was clear that there was obvious bias against the doctor because of the fact that she was trained In Poland with repeated references being made in meetings between her colleagues to her Polish origins and her alleged lack of competency because of being trained in Poland.
The campaign against Dr. Michalak resulted in her being suspended in January 2006 by the new newly appointed medical director despite him apparently having “no idea what the allegations against Dr. Michalak were”. She was then subjected to a “Lengthy and wholly unauthorised period of suspension” before disciplinary proceedings were begun in May 2007 concluding in her dismissal in July 2008.
Dr. Michalak described at the employment hearing how her life had been made a “living hell” after she returned to work in 2003. She described being “so stressed I was crying on my work to work” and that the way she had been treated by her colleagues had “destroyed her life” leaving her unable to carry out everyday tasks and she was reluctant to leave the house and would now never be able to return to work.
The award of just short of £4.5 million is the largest ever made by an Employment Tribunal. The reason that the award was so high was because there is no limit in discrimination cases unlike in, for example, cases for unfair dismissal where there is a cap upon how much a Tribunal can award. The doctor was awarded£1.1 million for past and future loss of earnings, £660 for loss of pension rights and nearly £90,000 for injury to feelings and psychiatric injury. Additionally, she was awarded a “exemplary award” and a further uplift of 15% upon the award as an extra payment to reflect the way she had been treated. As awards of over £30,000 are subject to tax, the Tribunal also included an allowance of £2 million to reflect the tax that she will have to pay upon the award meaning that tin reality the doctor will receive just short of £2.4 million.
As the papers have been quick to point out, this is a staggering sum of money for a Trust to have to pay out particularly given the financial crisis that was already facing the Trust. However, it has to be remembered that nearly half the award will go straight back to the taxman and it was not the doctor who cost the NHS this amount, but the doctors who chose to mount this vile and completely unwarranted campaign against her just because of her Nationality and the fact that she took time off work because of her pregnancy.