Single sexist comment costs one of Lancashire's biggest employers £360,000

A manager's 'clumsy' comment to a secretary that 'women take things more emotionally than men' will cost Britain's biggest arms manufacturer £360,000.

Monday, 31st July 2017, 2:55 pm
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 1:08 pm

BAE Systems argued the law had gone mad and attacked the payout to Marion Konczak for “a single sexist comment” as “an affront to justice”.

But three senior judges today ruled the 62-year-old was due every penny after the manager’s comment plunged her into a mental breakdown.

BAE was working on a big project for the Royal Saudi Air Force when she complained that she had been “bullied and harassed, including sexually”.

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But her line manager later told her that “women take things more emotionally than men, whilst men tend to forget things and move on.”

That proved the “final straw” for Mrs Konczak who went off sick with stress from her £22,000 a year job and was dismissed in July 2007, aged 53.

She took BAE Systems (Operations) Ltd to an Employment Tribunal which upheld the single complaint of sexual discrimination relating the manager’s comment.

The Tribunal either rejected or made no finding on 15 other sex discrimination complaints, but found that her dismissal had been unfair and an act of victimisation.

After a marathon legal struggle, Mrs Konczak was awarded £360,178.60 compensation in October 2014, the payout amounting to more than 16 times her final salary.

BAE challenged the award, describing it as “grossly excessive” for what happened to her.

But her lawyers said the manager’s comment “pushed her over the edge” into a psychiatric breakdown which ruined her working life.

Today three judges at the Court of Appeal in London backed Mrs Konczak and rejected BAE’s complaints.

After being told she would be sent back to work with colleagues who had mistreated her in the past, she had broken down in tears in front of her line manager.

And he made the comment “in what appears to have been an attempt to express sympathy, however clumsily”, said Lord Justice Underhill.

Mrs Konczak did not return to work the following day and was signed off sick by her GP. She was finally dismissed by BAE in July 2007.

BAE’s legal team argued that to blame all her psychiatric problems on the manager’s single comment “offended against all logic”.

She had “experienced numerous adverse and stressful workplace events” that might have contributed to her illness, said Paul Gilroy QC, for BAE.

There was, he added, evidence that Mrs Konczak suffered from a “diagnosable mental illness” even before the comment was made.

But the judge said: “The tribunal’s finding may possibly have been generous - we are not in a position to say - but it was not perverse.”

He added: “The basic rule is that a wrongdoer must take his victim as he finds him, eggshell personality and all. That is not inherently unjust”.

Slamming the “extraordinary” history of the case, he said the dispute had led to no less than eight tribunal hearings since Mrs Konczak was sacked in 2007.

“It is important to note from the outset that she has suffered throughout the period covered by these proceedings from mental ill health.”

Her suffering had, he added, been “prolonged by the stress of her involvement in these proceedings”.

Lord Justice Irwin and Lady Justice Gloster agreed that there was no “windfall” element in Mrs Konczak’s payout.

The court heard earlier that she had been part of a BAE liaison team working with officers of the Royal Saudi Air Force on a major aircraft contract.

She worked at the BAE plant in Samlesbury, near Preston, and initially got on well with Saudi officers working on the project.

But she became “increasingly unhappy” after a change in personnel and complained of bullying and sexual harassment by two members of her team.

She was moved to BAE’s Warton plant, but was later told she would be shifted back to work with her old team, including the men she had complained about.

She believed her objections were not being taken seriously and that triggered the crucial meeting with her line manager.

Tristan Jones, for Mrs Konczak, told the court: “The reason why Mrs Konczak has not been in work since April 2006 is that BAE discriminated against her and then, a year later, when she was fit and keen to return to work, refused to let her return, victimised her, and dismissed her unfairly.”

Mrs Konczak, he added, was already “dispirited and demoralised” by her treatment when she went to see her line manager and was met with the sexist remark.