ME sufferer ‘sacked for her illness’ sues for £100,000

April 8, 2008

From the London Evening Standard, 8 April 2008.

A City worker with ME is suing a private equity fund for more than £100,000 after she was fired for being disabled, an industrial tribunal heard.

A City worker with ME is suing a private equity fund for more than £100,000 after she was fired for being disabled, an

Julie Pine, a database administrator for Cinven Limited – which recently bought Bupa's hospitals and assets for £1.44 billion – claims she was hounded out of her £30,000-a-year job because of her chronic fatigue syndrome.

The 31-year-old said senior PA Melanie Price embarked on a whispering campaign by closely monitoring Miss Pine's absences, describing her as a "malingerer" and discussing her illness openly in the office.

Now house-bound with the condition, Miss Pine told Kingsway Employment Tribunal via video link that her inability to come into the office led to spiteful comments between colleagues, including an email which said: "Tell her to die."

As a result of Mrs Price's harassment, Cinven Limited – which has a minimum investment criterion of ¤500 million – "orchestrated" her redundancy after she went on long-term sick leave because it "did not want to be saddled with a sick employee," she claimed.

The tribunal heard that after Miss Pine developed symptoms including lethargy and exhaustion in January 2006, she asked if she could work from home, accessing the company database remotely.

But Mrs Price complained to HR manager Andrew Broomfield, insisted on being kept up to date on Miss Pine's absences, and gossiped about them in the office, the tribunal heard.

Miss Pine, who lives in Suffolk, said she was "extremely upset, distressed and humiliated" by Mrs Price's " malicious" treatment.

She said: "I believe that Mrs Price embarked on a deliberate campaign to blacken my name, and sow seeds of suspicion and distrust about my illness and absences in the mind of my employer and other members of staff.

"I believe that Mrs Price created a situation whereby I was perceived as a malingerer and actively encouraged Cinven Limited to dismiss me.

"It is also clear that she wielded considerable influence over management. Cinven Limited orchestrated the redundancy situation to provide a cloak of legitimacy to dismiss me."

Mrs Price says her interest in Miss Pine's absences was out of concern for her well-being.

Miss Pine signed off on long-term sick leave on 23 August 2006, and told Cinven Limited she had been diagnosed with ME the following month. She was formally dismissed on New Year's Eve that year. No other positions were offered and an appeal was dismissed by the company.

She said: "I do not believe that I would have been dismissed on the grounds of redundancy had I been able-bodied and not had any time off work due to sickness, as my work record was unblemished and I was good at my job."

Mr Broomfield told the tribunal that the redundancy was not related to Miss Pine's condition, but to the reduction in the amount of work available.

He said: "The position was redundant as far as we were concerned and the disability, whilst unfortunate for Julie, had no real effect on the job disappearing." Cinven Limited and Melanie Price deny unfair dismissal, disability discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the grounds of disability.

The hearing is due to end on Friday.

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