Case 028 - TV Company

Female, UK, TV Broadcasting company

My employment with the TV broadcasting company started in Summer 1999, where I was employed as a secretary. I was the only staff member of an ethnic minority in the team, which doesn’t match with the image of the TV broadcasting company’s boasts of being an equal opportunities employer.

What I now recognise to be minor incidences of bullying started on my first day there. These incidences soon escalated. I was bullied by my male manager and a female colleague on a daily basis. She was a very insecure woman. For example, when colleagues would compliment me on my work she would stamp around the office in a fit of rage. Mental harassment by them consisted of being spoken of derogatorily in front of other members of staff, goalposts were moved constantly, and my manager refused to pay me for over-time worked - despite my contractual requirement to be paid for all over-time worked. He also told me to keep a daily diary of work I had completed, in which I was to include the occasions when I went to the toilet (I refused to include my visits to the toilet). Regarding physical harassment, I was shouted at on a near daily basis by both of them. He would brush his body across my bottom, and in anger would violently shove the back of the chair I was sitting in. The various harassment I suffered was witnessed by many people in the department, although none helped me through fear of being bullied themselves. Due to the dysfunction of the department, at least two of the staff who were unhappy at work reverted to drinking alcohol throughout their working days. Another took extended sick leave so as not to return to work in the department.

At my partners advice, I kept a daily diary of the harassment. I lodged a complaint with my union representative, who initially agreed that I was being unfairly treated. I was slightly alarmed during our first meeting when he appeared to fall asleep, but I assumed he had worked late the night before, and so thought that I could still rely upon him to be alert during other meetings. How wrong I was…

A series of meetings then took place between myself, the bullies, personnel, and my union representative. My union representative fell asleep during all of these meetings. He refused to take notes during the meetings, claiming that my complaint was to be regarded informally despite the physical assaults I had described to him. By now I was regularly crying whilst traveling to work. I was losing weight rapidly, my hair was starting to fall out in clumps, and I would jump at the slightest noise. These were signs of PTSD due to the severe bullying, but I didn’t realise at the time.

In November 1999 I fled the office. My manager had been shouting at me and had raised his hand as if to hit me in the face. His shouting was so loud that it drew the attention of a colleague who asked what was happening, although she later denied witnessing this.

The next day my GP diagnosed me with depression, caused by the harassment at work. I was prescribed with anti-depressant medication, and given sick leave. At this point my union representative was refusing to return my telephone calls and was not acknowledging receipt of my faxes, so I applied to the General Secretary of the union for my representative to be replaced. He initially ignored my telephone calls to his office, until I went to head office with my partner and demanded that a meeting be set up to obtain a competent union representative. Reluctantly, the union provided me with a National Officer. A few weeks later I saw my GP and also the company’s own occupational health doctor. I obtained a medical certificate from both of them - both reports said that I should be transferred to a different department in order to assist my recovery. Despite personnel being aware of this, they threatened to dismiss me unless I returned to work in the same department where the bullies remained - and at least one had been promoted. I lodged a formal complaint of harassment against the bullies. Part of the complaints procedure was that I informed the head of my department of the daily harassment as lodged in my diary. I later discovered that she did not interview the majority of the witnesses to my harassment - which contravenes the company’s policies regarding harassment investigations - and her report consisted of untrue and slanderous accusations. For example, untrue comments regarding my sexuality were included, and the core of the report consisted of slanderous and vexatious accusations, none of which were relevant to the fact that I had been harassed.

Two weeks after I formally lodged my harassment complaint, and before I was given the result of the investigation into my harassment, my union representative told me that the company wanted to offer me £4,500 in exchange for discontinuing my harassment complaints, signing a gagging clause and leaving the company. He said that I would be expected to sign a gagging clause and that I would not be provided with a reference. He insisted that I should accept the offer. I refused the offer as I simply wanted to remain working for the company in an alternative department (I had constantly states this request to my union representative). Two weeks later I was informed that my complaints had not been upheld.

In the meantime I applied for jobs within the company but was unsuccessful. During one of the applications, the interviewers implied that they had been informed of my harassment complaints, and therefore were biased against me obtaining the vacancy. I further visited my GP and the company doctor, who again provided me with medical certificates. I now had a total of 4 medical certificates which supported my decision to be laterally transferred to another department, but personnel refused to do so.

There were further meetings with personnel in which they threatened to dismiss me unless I returned to work in my previous department. My union representative was not taking notes of the meetings which were taking place. During one meeting, personnel agreed to send me copies of the weekly internal jobs paper and agreed to provide me with any job that I was interested in. When I then asked for their assistance in obtaining a job, they then refused to do so, and said that I should apply for the post myself. Personnel also sent me job descriptions of posts which would have left me in a worse position than before, as they consisted of temporary, lower pay and grade, and less career prospects than my previous position, and so I did not apply for them. Furthermore, the newsletter containing these job adverts would often be sent after the application deadlines had expired.

I was then sent a letter informing me of my dismissal, which contravenes the ACAS guidelines as a dismissal hearing never even took place. My P45 was then sent to me before I had appealed against my dismissal - this contravened the company’s and ACAS policy regulations. By this point my union representative was refusing to take or return my calls and was insisting that I leave the company and get a job elsewhere. He became confrontational during telephone calls to his office (on several occasions my partner had to phone him in order to trick him into taking the call. When they got wise to this, they wrote to me stating they would not take any further calls from my partner). He would also claim to be out of the office and on one occasion I heard him in the background informing his secretary to tell me that he was not in the office. When I said that I would contact the TUC unless he spoke to me, his secretary conveyed this message and he then spoke to me. Since December 1999, I had been asking the union to refer me to their solicitors, but they were refusing to do so.

My dismissal appeal hearing then took place. In attendance was my union representative, a member of personnel sent from another office, and a senior Director. I subsequently discovered that the personnel officer had not been trained in company’s policies and had no experience in dismissal appeal hearings of my sector and so was in no position to govern over my dismissal appeal hearing. The senior Director was a friend of the manager who took the decision to dismiss me, and therefore was biased. My union representative refused to assist me with my dismissal appeal and throughout told me to omit my claims which included sexual harassment. During the hearing, the personnel officer snapped at me and constantly threatened to leave and terminate the meeting. At the insistence of my union representative, I withdrew complaints of my manager sexual harassing me in order to try to placate her. When I included the behaviour of the personnel officer in her minutes, neither she nor the senior Director denied her actions.

Two weeks later I had not been provided with the outcome of my dismissal appeal hearing and so I sent a fax to the Head of the company, which detailed my situation. He responded via a representative in which I was given the option to receive my decision promptly. I accepted, and was informed that my appeal against dismissal was unsuccessful. Once again, there is evidence to support the fact that a thorough investigation into the complaints raised at my dismissal appeal hearing was not conducted.

The union then reluctantly agreed for me to see their firm of lawyers. The lawyer I saw did not provide any evidence to prove that she had read my documents and said that I had no grounds for Tribunal action against the company. Her advice was contrary to the advice given by various associates of mine with knowledge of harassment cases who said that I had a very strong case of unfair dismissal, sexual discrimination, racial discrimination and, because of the Depression the bullies had caused, disability discrimination.

My union representative was being argumentative, verbally aggressive and confrontational towards me. He was fully aware of my Depression, and I now see that his behaviour towards me was a tactic to wear me down. He wrote a letter to me saying that I had a different agenda to that of the union, to which I replied saying that my agenda throughout was to be laterally transferred to another job away from the bullies. I added that if my agenda was indeed different to the union then clearly their agenda was to ensure that I no longer had a job. They refused to respond to this letter and I cancelled my membership with them.

I decided to battle against the TV broadcasting company by myself and lodged my complaints against them with the Employment Tribunal. By this time I was contacted by a former colleague. Ironically, she had initially refused to testify in court for me. She claims to have suffered similar mistreatment from my former manager. She also told me that no action had been taken against him by the company - despite her complaints and those of other members of staff - and that the union had also refused to assist her. It transpired that the union were in fact assisting the manager against her complaint.

I appointed a firm of lawyers - who specialise in Human Rights cases. Initially they appeared to be helpful and sympathetic to my case. They reviewed my case and wrote to me saying that my case “would be difficult but not impossible” and that some of my managers’ actions were clearly discriminatory. They agreed to take on my case. Around Winter 2001, I noticed that there were irregularities in the conduct of my lawyers. For example, they disobeyed my written and verbal instructions to them and they billed me for work of which there was no evidence took place. I listed my complaints in a fax to them and a meeting took place during which they admitted that they had been “clumsy” with my case. They also said that my case would not win, and urged me to drop my case, which reneged upon the sentiments of their original letter to me. I made notes of what was said during the meeting and sent a copy to them. They denied what had been said.

When I attempted to pay for the barrister to present my case, the firm of lawyers started creating various excuses to avoid appointing the barrister, and again told me to drop my case. I personally contacted ACAS who told me that the TV broadcasting company had refused to offer a settlement. I discovered that my lawyers hadn’t even put an offer to the company, as is usually the case in out of court settlements. My partner and I went to the lawyers offices to ask for all of my documents back. During this meeting they were verbally aggressive and threatened to order my partner to leave the office. We said that we wished to dis-instruct them in the next two days. They refused to provide me with all of my case documents by claiming that I may wish to reappoint them to work on my case. Meanwhile, the company had written a letter to my lawyers in which they threatened to sue me if my Hearing was dismissed by the Tribunal. My lawyers had never told me of this letter until 4 days before the Hearing was due to take place.

We returned to her office to collect my remaining documents. Upon looking through the documents we discovered that very little work had been done on my case over the last 2 months. Various letters from the TV broadcasting company had been unanswered. I discovered that various telephone calls between the company and the lawyers had taken place, with no explanation as to why nor what was discussed. I also discovered correspondence from my lawyers to the company which appears to have been back-dated. Additionally, it became apparent that the lawyers had told the company that they would collate all of the documents for the Hearing and had failed to do so.

I contacted an Advice Bureau who read through some of my documents and confirmed that I had a very strong case against the TV broadcasting company. They also said that due to my lawyers’ inaction and disobeyment of my instructions, I now had grounds for pursuing a case of negligence against the lawyers. At my request the Advice Bureau telephoned the company and the Tribunal informing them of my decision to withdraw my claims under the condition that the company shall not seek costs against me. The TV broadcasting company agreed with my request and the Tribunal was informed of my decision. The Advice Bureau also telephoned the lawyers who nervously asked if my representative was a government official (perhaps there are some skeletons in the Human Rights lawyers closet?).

My case is now finished - almost 3 years after it all started. I am in debt because of all this, but no longer have to rely upon the anti-depressants. I refuse to let it get me down. I feel proud that I stood up to the bullies in such a renowned company when even the senior managers (including the Head of the TV broadcasting company) did not. Also, my partner has been invaluable throughout it all as was Tim Field’s advice and that of others who weren’t under obligation to help me, but did.

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