NHS Trust bosses “considering next steps” after 88-year-old secretary wins age discrimination case

An 88-year-old hospital secretary frogmarched out of her office by security has become the oldest person ever to win an age discrimination case.

Eileen Jolly successfully sued the NHS Trust where she had worked for 25 years when her career was abruptly ended at the age of 85.

She was escorted out of the building before being sacked four months later in January 2017 after colleagues told bosses they were concerned about her ‘frailty’ and age.

The defiant grandmother, who has a heart condition and walks with a stick, took the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation to an employment tribunal.

She told the hearing in Reading before Christmas that she had not taken a day off sick for 10 years, despite suffering a cardiac arrest at work in 2004 when she had to be resuscitated by a surgeon.

And the widow was adamant that she had planned to carry on working until she was at least 90 years old.

Now the tribunal Mrs Jolly has ruled in favour of her and she has won her claims of unfair dismissal and discrimination on the grounds of age and disability.

She has also won her claim for breach of contract.

But she will have to wait until October to learn how much compensation she will be awarded.

Speaking from her Berkshire home, she said: “I have not read the judgment yet.

“I am seeing my solicitor either this week or next week.”

The tribunal heard that after she was escorted out of the hospital by security staff in September 2016 she was prescribed antidepressants and felt too ashamed to tell anyone what had happened, saying instead that she had ‘retired.’

Her husband died two weeks before the tribunal hearing began last November ago without knowing what happened.

She was told to collect her things and leave and overheard a colleague saying: “Eileen won’t be coming back.”

The medical secretary, who suffers from arthritis and a heart condition, was accused of allowing patients that needed breast surgery to wait more than 52-weeks for treatment.

Mrs Jolly, who lives in Tilehurst, Berks, was blamed for not uploading details of women awaiting non-urgent breast reconstruction surgery to a new database.

The error was partly blamed for 14 women having to wait more than a year for surgery, putting the hospital’s trust at risk of a Government fine.

But an employment judge ruled Mrs Jolly and her managers had different ideas about what her role entailed – and the Trust failed to train her in how to manage patient waiting lists.

The tribunal heard that Mrs Jolly first started working for consultant Brendan Smith in 2005.

Her work was described by Dr Smith as “reliable and meticulous” and that she held a list of patients waiting for non-urgent surgery but it was managed by someone else.

The Directorate Manager for Abdominal Surgery, who was not named in the hearing, was said to be responsible for informing Dr Smith when patients had been waiting 52-weeks since their initial referral.

Dr Smith would then move any patients reaching that limit onto the patient waiting list, the employment court heard.

When the director left in 2015, the Trust is said to have redesigned its administration system and Mrs Jolly’s role changed from medical secretary to a patient pathway co-ordinator.

But a training session had to be re-scheduled after the trainer could not tell the class “how patients go from one part of the system to another”. The hearing heard this was not re-scheduled and never took place.

Employment judge Andrew Gumbiti-Zimuto said: “The Claimant did not understand her role the way that her managers understood her role.

“The role that the Claimant understood she was performing, she was performing competently.

“There is a suspicion of the Claimant being a scapegoat, the Claimant was not offered training where it might be considered appropriate.

“There was evidence of the Claimant’s training having been inadequate, incomplete and ‘on the job’ training was ad hoc and not directed.”

The tribunal heard that on September 8, 2016, Mrs Jolly went into work and was approached by a colleague who told her to see the Director of Operations.

The Employment Judge said: “The claimant was told that she was being investigated.

“The Claimant describes the way this happened as humiliating, she describes feeling degraded and she recalls a colleague saying: ‘Eileen won’t be coming back.’

“The Claimant was escorted off the premises and accompanied by a colleague while she waited for a taxi.

“The Claimant describes how she felt that she was being escorted from premises in case she did something she should not. She described the incident as ‘awful’.”

In a letter later that month, Mrs Jolly was told there had been three serious incidents in two years in relation to breaching the 52-week limit on the waiting lists.

Mrs Jolly told the tribunal she felt depressed, ashamed and couldn’t sleep.

She told friends and relatives that she had retired so that she did not have to “re-live the whole dreadful experience”.

She was then asked to re-arrange a doctors appointment to come in for an interview, the tribunal heard, which the employment judge ruled was disability discrimination.

During the investigation into her conduct, the tribunal ruled that “discriminatory and inappropriate” comments were made about Mrs Jolly – including about her age and ability to walk the length of the building.

It was also noted she was ‘frail’ because of her arthritis and heart conditions which the tribunal ruled were “hurtful” to the 87-year-old .

Manager Michael Eastwell who carried out the investigation was found to be “unreasonable” in his treatment of Mrs Jolly because he was “tainted with considerations about the Claimant’s age and also about the Claimant’s disability”.

Employment judge Gumbiti-Zimuto said: “Mr Eastwell took into account the comments by colleagues which included comments about the Claimant’s frailty.

“The comments made were inappropriate, hurtful and related to the Claimant’s age and perceived frailty because of her age and disability.

“When the Claimant read these comments, she considered them hurtful and saw that they were aimed at her age and her health as well as perceptions of her age and health.

“The nature of the comments once communicated to the Claimant, as they were in the course of the investigation, violated the Claimant’s dignity in relation to her age and disability and created a hostile and intimidating environment for her.”

The tribunal ruled that there was a “symbiosis” between Mrs Jolly’s age, disability and the way in which she was treated by the NHS Trust.

A remedy hearing is due to take place in October.

By Adela Whittingham

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