An Employment Tribunal has rejected a former employee’s claim against BT, where he argued that he was dismissed as a result of performance improvement plans that were age discriminatory.
Mr Gheasuddin was an employee at BT for just under 29 years. In 2001 he was promoted to a managerial role and in 2013 he was made a front office team manager. Each year, Mr Gheasuddin was subject to a performance review system and across 2012 to 2014, he was meeting the required standards.
Issues started to arise in the 2014/2015 year, when BT began a concerted effort to change the culture of the firm by focusing on developing the coaching and team managing skills of newly promoted managers. That year, Mr Gheasuddin received a ‘development needed’ performance review. A performance improvement plan (PIP) was implemented that set out a coaching plan and meetings with a meritocracy coach, Ms Shakespeare. At the end of the PIP, Mr Gheasuddin’s line manager Mr Wright determined there had been no improvement and an unsatisfactory performance review for 2015/2016 was given.
A second PIP took place, but yet again no improvement was recorded. Mr Gheasuddin was asked to attend a capability hearing and was subsequently dismissed from his position for failing to understand or acknowledge the importance of BT leadership capabilities. Mr Gheasuddin was 55 at the time of the dismissal.
Mr Gheasuddin did not raise the issue of age until in front of the Tribunal, where he produced evidence of potential age discrimination in the form of BT documents and witness evidence.
In certain BT spreadsheet documents, age was used as an identifier when looking at performance and a witness, Ms McHugh, stated that an “aggressive” form of performance review was in place at BT that showed a pattern of lower marks for older workers. On the basis of that evidence, Mr Gheasuddin claimed that he been targeted for a PIP because he was over 50 and had been set a more rigorous standard because of his age.
The Tribunal noted that the documentary evidence and Ms McHugh’s evidence suggested that there were factors in play in BT’s performance processes that might have led to conscious or subconscious age discrimination. As such the burden of proof shifted to BT to provide an explanation.
Disproving the burden
Mr Gheasuddin’s former line manager Mr Wright stated he was under no pressure to force the distribution of his performance ratings. A clear explanation was given to Mr Gheasuddin at each stage of the PIP on where he was failing. It was stated that whilst he had always been delivering targets, what was required had changed since the culture shift.
The Tribunal had sympathy for Mr Gheasuddin but recognised BT had enforced a company-wide change, to which he was expected to adjust his style of management. It was also held that Mr Gheasuddin had considerable support to facilitate that adjustment.
The Tribunal therefore rejected Mr Gheasuddin’s claim, stating that the performance management process and the dismissal were not based on age discrimination.
Mr A Gheasuddin v British Telecommunications Plc, 16 June 2017, Case Number: 2302777/2016