An 88-year-old NHS secretary, who was dismissed by her employer for failing to use a computer system, has become the oldest person to win an age discrimination claim in the Employment Tribunal.

Facts

Eileen Jolly was a “reliable and meticulous” employee of the Royal Berkshire NHS Trust (“the Trust”) for over 25 years. She was dismissed in January 2017 after she was accused of failing to upload records onto a computer system, which led to patients waiting a year longer for non-urgent surgery.

Prior to her dismissal, a lengthy internal investigation in late 2016 that was brought against her for the quality of her work found her to have a “fundamental misunderstanding of her role”.

Mrs Jolly alleged that during the investigation, she was subject to upsetting comments about her age, and her counter grievance on the basis of age discrimination was not taken seriously by the Trust.

She brought a claim of unfair dismissal, disability discrimination and age discrimination. The Trust accepted that she was unfairly dismissed as it failed to provide her with an opportunity to appeal her dismissal, but it argued that age was not a factor.

Decision

The Tribunal found that Mrs Jolly’s dismissal was “tainted by discrimination” and therefore unfair.

The Tribunal accepted that Mrs Jolly had a misunderstanding of her role, but she was not offered IT training to remedy this because managers considered “it would not be appropriate”. The Tribunal inferred that this difference in treatment to her colleagues was because of her age.   

The Tribunal found that Mrs Jolly’s formal grievance relating to age discrimination was not dealt with adequately by the Trust. Mr Daniel O’Donnell, Mrs Jolly’s manager, admitted that he was aware of inappropriate comments relating to her fragility and age, yet he did not address these in the grievance. The Tribunal held that this failure to consider her grievance amounted to age discrimination.

The Tribunal also noted a general dismissive attitude towards Mrs Jolly’s complaints throughout the internal investigation. A senior figure at the Trust, Mr Michael Eastwell, was accused of taking a “harsh, callous approach” towards Mrs Jolly’s inability to attend meetings during the investigation as a result of her medical appointments.

A remedy hearing will take place in October 2019.

The judgment is available here.

Mrs E Jolly v Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust: 3324869/2017, Reading Employment Tribunal, 29 January 2018

Comment