An asthmatic lawyer who was fired from her high-flying banking job because she was ill and asked to work from home has won a disability discrimination claim against her former employer.
Gulnaz Raja was criticized by ‘demanding’ boss Matt Newman, who appreciated that the staff worked late in the office.
Instead of participating in the “long hours culture” at Starling Bank, Mrs. Raja – who suffers from asthma – arrived just five minutes early for board meetings – 40 minutes after her boss.
The tribunal heard that, although Mr. Newman thought long working hours were important, she would then leave work at the time specified in her contract.
When the 36-year-old later fell ill, took time off and began asking to work from home, Mr. Newman grew “impatient” with her, the hearing was told.
He then fired her from her £76,000-a-year job as a deputy company secretary after concluding she was “not a Starling person.”
Gulnaz Raja successfully sued Starling Bank, her ex-employer, for disability discrimination after being fired for wanting to work her contract hours in the office
Miss Raja will now receive compensation after successfully suing the bank for disability discrimination.
The Central London tribunal heard that Ms Raja – a lawyer since 2010 – started working at the bank in July 2019 and passed her probation period three months later.
Mr. Newman, the chief administrator and company secretary, congratulated her on her hard work and told her that he looked forward to working with her in the future.
However, he soon began to feel dissatisfied with her performance.
‘[Miss Raja] said that [Mr Newman] demanding that people be on time and that it was a culture of long hours,” the tribunal heard.
The hearing was told that for board meetings starting at 8:30 am, he would be in line at 7:45 am – but Miss Raja would show up five minutes before they were due.
“She said she couldn’t stay in the office outside of her contract hours, but would log in and work later in the evening,” the tribunal heard, as the panel noted examples of when she’d worked long hours from home.
Mr Newman – also a lawyer – told the hearing that she showed a “lack of ownership”, that her performance was “acceptable but not dynamic” and that she “didn’t perform at the level I expected or seemed to grab the part.” and make it her own.”
Chief Administrative Officer Matt Newman
The tribunal heard in November that Mr Newman was “disappointed” that Ms Raja showed “no interest and aptitude” for the most complex aspects of her role – although no specifics of Ms Raja’s shortcomings were noted.
The hearing was told that Ms. Raja was coughing because the “air conditioning in the office was very cold” – and asked to move desks away from a vent, citing her asthma.
In November, she went to her GP about her ‘persistent’ cough and emailed Mr. Newman requesting work from home, but received no response.
On December 16, Miss Raja emailed again that she had the flu and was unable to work, but was again ignored – just like she was for the following week.
Miss Raja then went back to work and worked Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
The tribunal heard that in the new year, Miss Raja had notified Mr. Newman of two upcoming medical appointments related to her asthma.
She got no response and told the tribunal that this felt “punishment” and showed that he was “not happy” with her.
The tribunal heard that Mr. Newman later in January declined a work-from-home request, saying there was an “office” and “team culture” at Starling Bank to generally work in the office.
Labor judges at the London court (pictured) partially favored Mrs Raja
The panel was told she was arriving at work on March 9, 2020 and was asked to speak with Mr Newman to discuss her health and safety concerns related to the growing Covid pandemic.
But she was invited into a conference room and left “blindsided” by being fired and told she was “not a Starling person.”
She took the bank and Mr. Newman to the labor court, including discrimination based on disability, unfair dismissal and victimization.
Labor judge Natasha Joffe, who ruled she had been discriminated against, said: “We felt there was good evidence that [Mr Newman] valued employees who work long hours in the office.
He criticized the plaintiff for leaving her job at the end of her contract hours.
‘That attitude seemed to us in these circumstances to align with an attitude of impatience with absenteeism.
“It seemed to us that the absenteeism and requests to work from home were part of a picture showing Ms Raja working her contractual hours and out of the office, as well as a handful of work issues that together led Mr Newman to conclude that she was “not a Starling person”.’
The panel said that “a total failure” to respond to reports of ill health and fail to express any concern or support “on a significant number of occasions” “appeared to be intended to discourage leisure time due to ill health and working from home.” ‘ .
Allegations of wrongful dismissal and victimization of Ms Raja were rejected.
A court hearing to decide on compensation will be held at a later date.