Will Clayton of Constantine Law successfully represents senior risk and compliance banking professional in combined unfair dismissal and discrimination arising from disability case, with a potential value in excess of £2m.

An Employment Tribunal has handed down its reserved judgment in the case of Ms Adeline Willis v Nat West Bank plc.

After five days of evidence and three days of deliberations, the London Central Employment Tribunal this week ruled that Ms Willis was unfairly dismissed and that her claim that the Bank discriminated against her contrary to section 15 of the Equality Act was also successful on five counts.

Ms Willis, 44, was a senior and successful employee of NatWest Bank with over six years’ service when she was told by the bank that she was to be dismissed on the grounds of redundancy, two days after surgery to remove a malignant tumour. She was represented in her claim throughout by Will Clayton, specialist employment lawyer at Constantine Law. Paul Gilroy QC argued the case on Ms Willis’s behalf at the full hearing.

In its Judgment, the Tribunal rejected the bank’s claim that Ms Willis’s role was redundant, and expressly found, contrary to the case advanced by NatWest, that the work that she was employed to do on a secondment to help ensure the Bank complied with its regulatory Operational Continuity in Resolution obligations “had not ceased or diminished”.

Significantly, the Tribunal went on to find that the reason for the decision not to make a case to keep Ms Willis permanently in that role was because of her absences arising from her cancer.

Unusually, the Tribunal found, it had “clear evidence of discriminatory intent” by Ms Willis’s managers in the form of a recorded telephone conversation with HR, just a few weeks after her cancer diagnosis first became known, during which they sought advice on terminating Ms Willis’s employment early because she was likely to be absent from work.

According to Ms Willis’s case, she was “physically and emotionally in turmoil” as NatWest dismissed her from her £160,000-a year position without any offer of alternative employment in April 2020, just eight months after her bowel cancer diagnosis.

In summing up the case the Tribunal found that the Claimant was treated unfavourably “because of something arising from disability” in the following ways:

a. changing her reporting line;

b. excluding Ms Willis from routine Monday morning meetings with her previous line manager;

c. denying her an end of year performance review;

d. dissuading her from applying for other jobs (misleading her to believe that she would be kept in role after she recovered from her surgery); and

e. by dismissing her.

None of those matters were, in the view of the Tribunal, capable of being justified by NatWest.

Employment Judge Spencer, delivering the Judgment on behalf of the Tribunal also found that Ms Willis had been unfairly dismissed, and that the bank failed to show a potentially fair reason for her dismissal which was “tainted with discrimination”.

The Bank was clear that they still had a requirement for someone in that role at the Claimant’s level and even went on to appoint Ms Willis’s replacement not long afterwards.

The Tribunal has encouraged the parties to settle the case to avoid the need for a remedy hearing later this year. Ms Willis seeks long term losses which exceed £2 million.

Ms Willis commenting on the outcome said: “I am delighted by the judgement and relieved the emotional stress this process has caused is nearly over. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my family, friends, and legal team for the continued support they have given me throughout this gruelling process.”

Louisa Ellis, the claimant’s sister said “Addy had radiotherapy, rounds of chemotherapy and surgery and then had to give evidence during the Tribunal- which made her physically sick. The distress caused to her, and our family, is unforgivable”.

Will Clayton, Employment Partner at Constantine Law said, “I am so pleased for my client to secure this result. Although I hoped, for Ms Willis’s sake, that we would settle this case before the full hearing, that wasn’t to be. Instead, we had to fight every inch of the way. Now that we have this Judgment in which the Tribunal clearly saw through the Bank’s hollow defence, it makes all the hard work worthwhile.”

“This has been a harrowing experience for my client who did not deserve the appalling treatment that she endured at the hands of one of this country’s largest and best resourced employers. The next step is to ensure that Ms Willis is fully compensated for her losses and the discrimination that she has suffered.”

QC for Ms Willis was Paul Gilroy QC of Littleton Chambers.

CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP advised NatWest Bank along with Charles Crow of No5 Barrister’s Chambers