Disabled trader ‘discriminated against’ after firm removed his responsibilities without consultation

20 Jan 2020 By Maggie Baska

Tribunal finds worker’s absence owing to depression influenced decision to restructure his department

An investment trader faced discrimination after he became mentally unwell and his employer removed his job responsibilities without consultation, a London tribunal has ruled.

Adam Glover Bailie, who works as the head of equities and fixed income for ADM Investor Services International, claimed the company undermined him when he was diagnosed with depression after working excessive hours. 

The tribunal heard that while Bailie was on sick leave, Fabian Somerville-Cotton, managing director of ADM, told Bailie’s team another employee would take on the role as ‘co-head’ of the department and have overall responsibility of the team.

It ruled that the implications of the restructure were to permanently remove management responsibilities from Bailie, which amounted to “less favourable treatment than an individual without a disability might expect”.

However, additional claims of indirect discrimination, failure to make reasonable adjustments at work, harassment and victimisation were dismissed by the tribunal.

Bailie started employment with ADM, a US-listed agricultural processor and food ingredient provider, in April 1996. He is still employed there.

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In January 2016, he was promoted to execution trading manager where, the tribunal heard, he began to experience work-related stress because of the pressure of the role. Throughout 2017, Bailie raised concerns to Gillian Phillips, ADM’s head of HR, about staff shortages, which increased Bailie’s workload and so put him under additional pressure.

In January 2018, Bailie was diagnosed with clinical depression and, on 4 May 2018, he was signed off sick for two weeks following a conversation with Phillips. Bailie updated Phillips about his condition following an appointment with his GP and was given temporary medical leave until June.

Bailie returned to work on 12 June on reduced hours. On his return, he spoke with Somerville-Cotton who said he wanted to keep Bailie in the company “in some capacity”. This constituted reassurance that Bailie would not be expected to take on an “onerous workload” until he was well, the tribunal found. 

On 6 July 2018, Bailie and Somerville-Cotton discussed restructuring Bailie’s department. Somerville-Cotton proposed they separate out the trading and sales functions, and a senior leadership team be elected to support Bailie. 

A couple weeks later, on 18 July, Bailie left work after he had, as he described it to Phillips in an email the next day, “a bit of a meltdown”. At the time of the hearing in November 2019, he had not returned to work. 

A formal restructure was announced by email on 3 August. In the email, Somerville-Cotton said Bailie would continue his leadership role, and Julia Williams would take on the role of co-head with sole responsibility for the team. This email was forwarded to Bailie’s personal email address on 5 August, and he told the tribunal he felt “undermined, humiliated and considerably distressed” as a result. 

Bailie emailed Phillips on 6 August to say he was “exceedingly distressed by the actions and decisions” made during his absence. 

On 17 August, Bailie was signed off work with depression for three months following meetings with his GP and a psychiatrist.

Bailie’s solicitors filed a formal grievance on 12 September. It highlighted Bailie’s depression and progression of symptoms from 2016 onwards, the pressures on him as a result of his workload, the firm’s failure to address this workload and the events around the announcement of the restructure in August 2018. 

However, the grievance was dismissed, with the report suggesting Bailie try workplace mediation. The allegations of discrimination linked to the restructure announced on 3 August were rejected, and the email concluded: “If anything, [the restructure] appears to have been an honest attempt to develop the department and to include Glover [Bailie] as a leader in that department.”

Bailie’s solicitors rejected the grievance outcome, and Bailie presented tribunal claims of discrimination, harassment, victimisation and failure to make reasonable adjustments on 21 December.

In his judgment, Judge Timothy Clive Adkin said: "We infer from the circumstances that by 3 August the fact that the absence was [down to] a mental health disability rather than merely an absence for some other sort of cause materially influenced the discussion to make Julia Williams co-head.

"This was less favourable treatment than an individual without a disability might expect." 

Andrew Willis, head of legal at HR-inform, said the case demonstrated how a failure to consider an employee’s disability could result in a costly discrimination claim. 

“As seen here, if key events concerning an individual’s employment take place during a period of sickness absence related to this disability, and as a result they feel they have not been included in them, the employee may be able to demonstrate less favourable treatment as a result of their condition,” Willis said.

Shazia Khan, employment and professional discipline partner at Irwin Mitchell, who represented Bailie, told People Management the ruling was a stark reminder that many work practices continue to fall foul of Equality Act 2010 provisions. 

“Depressingly, I am seeing a rise in disability discrimination claims being brought... especially those that relate to the management of mental health conditions,” Khan said. “This is illustrative of endemic issues within many work sectors, especially within financial services. Employers need to wake up and take heed of their conduct and culture, and ensure as a minimum compliance with the Equality Act.”

ADM declined to comment. A remedy hearing has been set for June 2020. 

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