Saturday, 15 May 2021

Sacked woman has dismissal claim rejected

Sacked woman has dismissal claim rejected

A WOMAN who accused her former employers of sacking her because they believed she may be autistic has lost her claim for alleged discrimination.

Sarah Hurst, 48, from Goring, is considering appealing after a tribunal judge ruled that the Department for International Trade had valid reasons for dismissing her.

She was seeking £40,000 in compensation from the the department where she worked as a senior investigator for nine months from October 2018. She was claiming discrimination based on sex, age, and perceived disability.

Ms Hurst was fired in June 2019 for “failing to meet the required standards expected” after managers raised a series of concerns about her communication skills.

The former journalist was told that she was behaving inappropriately towards colleagues and could have Asperger’s syndrome, a type of autism, but she denied both suggestions.

Ms Hurst’s managers told a virtual employment tribunal in January that her performance was satisfactory in the first three months, but colleagues became concerned by her behaviour including a “direct and intensive” style of questioning, which she denied.

They said they had raised the possibility of autism at her seven-month probation review in order to offer her support. At the same meeting, they also said they were extending her probation period despite having previously told her she’d passed.

In a written judgement published last Friday, judge Stephen Vowles said Ms Hurst’s claims were “speculative” on all three grounds and could not be proven.

He said the tribunal was satisfied that managers believed Ms Hurst was disabled but there were “plausible non-discriminatory reasons” for overturning her probation.

He acknowledged that the probation reviews were causing Ms Hurst stress as she asked for them to stop but ruled that “it was not unreasonable and it was not discriminatory to continue the process”.

Ms Hurst, who now works as a freelance consultant and journalist, said she was “obviously disappointed” by the result. She said: “For the judge to have found that the most important point — that they perceived me as autistic — was true, I don’t know how anything else they could have said would be found to be believable.

“I’m still not sure what I did wrong. If it’s my direct communication style, I don’t agree anything is wrong with that and don’t think that’s grounds for dismissal.

“The judge said the probation period caused me stress but they were okay to go on with extending it.

“I don’t think anyone should perceive a disability. It was a horrible thing to do and they have no qualifications to be able to do that.”

If Ms Hurst appeals, it will only be on grounds of perceived disability as she believes the claims of age and sex discrimination are harder to prove. She has 42 days from April 16 to decide and is currently receiving legal advice.

Ms Hurst added that although she lost the tribunal, she was glad to have had the opportunity to question her former employers.

She said: “I’m quite confident and I didn’t crack or get emotional. It was a difficult and challenging time.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for International Trade said it wouldn’t comment on the decision.

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