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Annie Hayes

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Bullying in workplace costs bank £800,000

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A high court judge ordered an £817,000 pay out to a former employee of Deutsche Bank after a campaign of bullying caused her to have two nervous breakdowns.

Helen Green, who worked for the bank as a company secretary between 1997 and 2001, brought a High Court action of negligence and harassment, claiming the bank had failed to prevent her colleagues’ actions.

Miss Green said she suffered psychiatric injury through “offensive, abusive, intimidating, denigrating, bullying, humiliating, patronising, infantile and insulting words and behaviour” by four women.

The judge, Mr Justice Owen, said the behaviour was “a relentless campaign of mean and spiteful behaviour designed to cause her distress” and that it was a long-term problem in the bank’s secretariat department. He added that the bank’s management was “weak and ineffectual”.

Miss Green claimed that one of the women, Daniella Dolbear, had blown raspberries at her when she walked to the stationery cupboard.

She also said that when she was working alone in an office, the four women had walked and Miss Dolbear, with her hand over her nose, had said: “What’s that stink over there?”

Miss Green denied talking down to the other women and said she used to sit at her desk and cry silently.

She suffered her first nervous breakdown in November 2000 and returned to full-time work the following April. Six months later, she had a second breakdown and did not return to work, although her job was kept open until September 2003.

The judge awarded her £35,000 for pain and suffering, £25,000 in respect of her disadvantage on the labour market, £128,000 for past loss of earnings and some £630,000 for future loss of earnings including pension. Deutsche Bank will also have to pay her legal costs.

Miss Green’s solicitor Tony Morton-Hooper, of Mishcon de Reya said: “Claims like Helen’s are hard to prove but psychiatric illness brought on by bullying can be as life-shattering as any physical injury.

“Her strength of character and determination has carried her through. It is quite surprising how badly the bank misjudged Helen and the compelling evidence we produced; and they rejected all our offers to settle.

“The judgment uses strong language in its condemnation of Deutsche Bank and its staff, some of whom are still employed by the bank.

“Bullying, in all its different forms, if tolerated by employers, has a corrosive effect. It causes great suffering and wastes valuable human resources. It also makes a mockery of senior management’s fine words about respecting and understanding others.”

In a statement, Deutsche Bank said it respected the court’s judgment but was considering appealing. Throughout the case it denied breach of duty and that Miss Green was bullied, relying instead on her pre-existing vulnerability to mental illness.

The case comes less than a month after the Majrowski case where law lords decided that employers were liable for bullying and harassment in the workplace and dispensed with the need to prove a recognised psychiatric illness had been caused. It also means employees have up to six years to bring a claim.

As well as harassment, Miss Green also relied on the established principle of employers’ liability. There have been a number of cases in this area, which taken together give a ‘foreseeability’ test.

This is a high hurdle for claimants as they must prove that the employer knew of a particular problem or vulnerability to be liable. In Miss Green’s case the fact she had returned to work after a nervous breakdown should have put Deutsche Bank on notice of her vulnerability.

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Annie Hayes

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