Record win for worker who suffered PTSD after Grenfell

After taking sick leave for post-traumatic stress disorder, a former council worker has been awarded a potentially record-breaking £4.6m as compensation for harassment and disability discrimination.

Rachael Wright-Turner lost her job as director of public service reform at the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham in 2018. An employment tribunal ruled that she had suffered disability discrimination and harassment, and awarded her one of the highest awards in damages.

Previously working as humanitarian assistance lead officer for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Ms Wright-Turner had been involved in the support of people who were affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy which happened in June 2017, where 72 people died.

Shortly before she started to work at Hammersmith & Fulham Ms Wright-Turnerwas diagnosed with PTSD.  She informed the council of her diagnosis and let them know that she was having counselling. She had also been diagnosed with ADHD.

The claimant became distressed when, on her first day, her line manager discussed a harrowing YouTube video of Ms Wright-Turner’s own experience when she was evacuated from her home by the fire service. 

On May 2nd 2018 concerns were raised about Ms Wright-Turner’s performance, with former chief executive Kim Smith accusing her of not informing them about her ADHD when she was recruited.

Ms Wright-Turner and some colleagues went to a pub later, where she told them that she was battling with her mental health. She was referring to difficulties in her marriage, and raised a concern about repercussions if she were to take sick leave before the end of her probation period.

The claimant became very upset and went with a colleague to the toilet where she became incoherent and began to hyperventilate. She refused to leave the cubicle. Concerned colleagues decided to take her to A&E where she was assessed as suffering from depression, was suicidal and traumatised. She was not intoxicated after being in the pub.

Mr Mark Grimley, interim HR director was among those at the pub and he reported that she had ‘had a lot to drink and wanted to be sectioned.’

Ms Wright-Turner’s doctor signed her off work for one month. This was later extended, with her probation period also being extended.

The council launched an investigation and Mr Grimley was interviewed where it was found that he had given misleading and mistaken evidence concerning the claimant’s consumption of alcohol at the pub.

Ms Wright-Turner was dismissed in August 2018. She received a letter stating that the council felt she would not be able to complete her probation period satisfactorily.

The tribunal found that Ms Smith had deliberately misled them when she said she had told Ms Wright-Turner on the day of the pub visit that her probation would be extended. In actual fact the decision was only taken the following day when they found out that the claimant would be taking sick leave.

Mr Grimley and Ms Smith were also found to have conspired to alter her dismissal letter to make it seem that it had been signed before the claimant launched a grievance. Their evidence at the tribunal was based on facts which they knew were untrue.

Ms Wright-Turnertold the council that she ‘had lost nearly everything’ because of how she had been treated by the council.

After six years of litigation she did not think that she would ever recover, even after hearing the size of her award. She was pleased however, that Hammersmith & Fulham who had fought her every step of the way, were finally held to account.

Mr Peter Daly, partner at Doyle Clayton, the firm who acted for the claimant stated that it was one of the biggest awards ever made by an employment tribunal, and reflects the seriousness and scale of the unlawful conduct by the council.

‘What is particularly noteworthy was the award of exemplary damages as this is indicative that the conduct from  Hammersmith & Fulham fell egregiously below an acceptable standard for a public authority.’

Mr Daly commented that the claimant was a successful and extremely senior public servant, in a job which had every chance of taking her to the very top of her profession. All this was denied by unlawful actions by the council. These were catastrophic for her career as well as her personal life.

A spokesperson for Hammersmith & Fulham commented that they were very sorry for the ordeal suffered by Ms Wright-Turner. However, they had always considered the claim for compensation to be highly unprecedented, disputed, and excessive.

While they are grateful for the tribunal for dismissing many other claims made by her lawyers, they still feel the award is excessive and will be looking to appeal.


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