A Muslim bank worker made redundant after his relationship with his bosses became “severely strained” following an incident in which he called them on Christmas Day was unfairly dismissed, a tribunal has ruled.
Sitting for London Central employment tribunal, Judge Joffe said that Charles Haresnape, chief executive officer of Gatehouse Bank, and Paul Stockwell, chief commercial officer, reached the view that they no longer required Mr Joynal Choudhury’s role, who was head of real estate, “because they had come to dislike him”, and “so far as the claimant was concerned the consultation was a ‘cosmetic exercise’”.
Choudhury began working for Gatehouse Bank in May 2015 as vice president of senior transaction analysis before eventually becoming head of real estate in March 2018.
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During his tenure as head of real estate, his relationship with Stockwell, his line manager, grew strained. Choudhury said he had “little respect” for Stockwell and his abilities and did not believe he had sufficient experience of commercial real estate. Choudhury also said members of his team lacked respect for Stockwell.
In late 2018, Choudhury grew concerned that he was personally liable for a loan for a company real estate asset in Paris and emailed the company’s CFO, Stockwell and Haresnape on 18 December for clarification. A series of emails were sent back and forth, and Choudhury called Stockwell on the morning of 25 December, as well as sending further emails asking for clarification. Stockwell responded by email to say that the respondent would fully indemnify the claimant.
On the evening of 25 December, Haresnape, who had been copied in to the correspondence, wrote to the claimant: “Do you realise that for many today is a festive period and your emails could have waited until after tomorrow. Please think about this.”
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The email copied in the executive committee team. Choudhury wrote back explaining why the matter could not have waited, and Haresnape sent a further email asking the claimant to make an appointment to see him when he was next in London “as there are a few things I wish to discuss”.
In a subsequent meeting on 8 January 2019, Haresnape told the claimant he was annoyed that he had disturbed him on Christmas Day, and said he was sure that Choudhury would not like it if he disturbed his Eid celebrations. Choudhury told the court it was his view that Haresnape regarded him as a difficult character after this “fractious” meeting.
On 4 June, following a downturn in a particular project of which Choudhury was a part, Stockwell telephoned Haresnape to inform him the expected deal was “dead in the water” and that a team restructure was necessary, which would include letting Choudhury go.
Stockwell said that Anna Clapton, from HR consultancy firm Curve, “was of the view that ‘we just make them redundant… that we compromise’” but told Haresnape “don’t mention names or anything”.
During the call, Choudhury was referred to by Haresnape as “an absolute pain in the arse”, who said “getting shot of that team once and for all is a positive thing”, adding “don’t forget he was the guy hassling us on Christmas Day”.
At this time Choudhury was on leave for Eid. During the call, Haresnape said: “It's now Eid as far as he is concerned and therefore this is dead important probably as well, unlike Christmas for us, which was not important in the slightest.”
A finalised restructure plan was circulated by Stockwell on 3 July 2019, including a detailed timeline for consultation with those at risk. Following the process, a letter was sent to Choudhury on 23 August informing him he was being made redundant and that the dismissal was to take effect immediately. On 8 September 2019, the claimant submitted his redundancy appeal but it was not upheld.
When ruling, Judge Joffe said: “The telephone call was evidence that a planned outcome of the redundancy process was the dismissal of the claimant. The discussions with HR seemed to be about constructing a process, which would look fair in order to achieve the outcome already decided.”
He added that Stockwell’s “intention to create a cosmetically satisfactory redundancy exercise” is apparent in the transcript from 4 June 2019, in which he stated not to mention any names when sending the details of the next step to the HR consultancy.
“He had already decided on the claimant’s name but is aware that the exercise needs to look like it is not predetermined,” Joffe said.
Choudhury was awarded £20,134.25 for unfair dismissal. Both he and Gatehouse Bank declined to comment.