A former City high-flyer who developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome while working for an American financial services company has lost a £1.25 million claim against the company – after a judge refused to accept that pressure of work had brought on the illness or that the company failed in their duty of care towards her.
Joanna MacLennan – who was recruited to run the human resources department when Hartford Europe Ltd opened its London office in 2004 – felt dizzy and ill at work in January 2005 and left the office. She never returned to work. In Spring 2006, she was diagnosed as having CFS from which she still suffers.
Through Hartford, she had permanent health insurance. That paid her an income until August 2009 when the office closed and, with the rest of the staff, Mrs MacLennan was made redundant, her insurance payments ceased and she began her claim in the High Court.
Mrs MacLennan, now 37 and living in Carshalton, Surrey, claimed that the stress of the job compromised her immune system and that bought on a number of infections, with chickenpox triggering her CFS. She told the court that her condition became worse when Hartford failed to support her by providing additional assistance – claims which were strongly resisted by the company.
She was widowed when her husband Fraser died in a road accident shortly before the court case.
Dismissing the claim, Mr Justice Hickinbottom, in a judgement published on 24 February 2012, said: “It is uncontroversial that Mrs MacLennan has CFS, which she has found debilitating over a lengthy period of time. For six years, she has been unable to work. Prior to contracting the condition, she was a diligent, hard-working and competent HR manager, popular and professionally esteemed her colleagues. Even leaving aside the awful tragedy of the loss of her husband in an accident last year, her story is a sad and tragic one. Nothing in this judgment derogates from that.”
Mrs MacLennan called two expert medical witnesses, consultant physician Dr William Weir and consultant psychiatrist Dr Adrian Whinbow. Professor Anthony Cleare, a consultant psychiatrist, appeared on behalf of Hartford Europe.
We’re indebted to Action for ME for the following item taken from their news summary on 8 March 2012:
Lawyer says CFS work claims will struggle
People with CFS face an ‘uphill struggle’ to prove that their condition was caused or exacerbated by work-related stress, following the High Court’s rejection of a claim by a former HR manager who sued her former employer for £1.25m saying she became ill as result of working 11-hour days. That is the view of Roger Jones, a partner at the law firm Kennedys which acted for her employer. He successfully argued in court that there were no academic articles or research to show that CFS was caused by stress.
Solicitors Journal, p 7