A senior female banker is set to sue HBOS for more than £11m in a sex discrimination and wrongful dismissal case after claiming she was, in effect, sacked when she tried to return to her desk on Monday.
Claire Bright, who was head of asset and liability management at the country’s largest mortgage and savings provider, confronted bosses when she arrived at HBOS headquarters in the City, having been suspended three months ago.
Ms Bright, 47, whose earnings package was about £600,000 a year, claims she was treated unfairly following a clash with a senior male colleague.
After spending three months on suspension, the well-known City banker arrived at HBOS offices before 8am on Monday morning determined to bring the dispute to a head. Shortly before 11am, she emerged looking shocked and distressed to tell waiting reporters that she had been dismissed.
Gillian Howard, her lawyer, said Ms Bright had been stopped from returning to work and so would add actions for wrongful dismissal and unfair dismissal to her claim for sex discrimination and victimisation already filed with Stratford employment tribunal in London.
HBOS acknowledged that “a grievance relating to allegations of sex discrimination” had been brought by Ms Bright and dealt with under the company’s normal procedures, which it described as “vigorous and comprehensive”. “That process has now been completed and Ms Bright’s allegations have not been upheld,” the company said.
HBOS went on to say that banker had met senior bosses from HBOS treasury on Monday morning and been treated with courtesy. “She remains an employee of the company”, it said.
The bank added it would “vigorously defend” its position at any tribunal hearing. But standing outside HBOS headquarters, Ms Howard said: “They dismissed my client without any reason. We are now going back to my office to issue proceedings.
“My client went in and wanted to go back to work. But we have been sitting waiting for 2 ½ hours with no meaningful discussions.
“This claim will be for more than £10m. It will be £11m-plus.”
Ms Howard said Ms Bright had been asked to attend a future disciplinary hearing headed by Lindsay Mackay, head of HBOS treasury services, but had declined. Ms Bright said: “I am very disappointed. I would much rather have resolved this amicably.”
Ms Bright had worked at HBOS for just a year before the friction with her boss led to her suspension on October 6. She claimed that the suspension was unlawful and was damaging her reputation in the City.
She had headed a team of more than 50 people in the bank’s treasury department, handling a balance sheet of billions of pounds.
If the dispute is not resolved out of court, it will be the latest in a string of “sexism and the City” cases.
Some lawyers believe the tide may have turned against such claims after Stephanie Villalba failed in her claim for up to £7m in damages against investment bank Merrill Lynch for discrimination and unequal pay.
Elizabeth Weston, a former in-house lawyer, settled a sex discrimination claim against Merrill Lynch for more than £500,000 in 2004, but last year withdrew a separate victimisation claim and agreed to pay £150,000 towards the investment bank’s legal costs.
However, just last week, six women, including one based in London, filed a $1.4bn discrimination suit in New York against Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein Securities and the investment bank’s parent, Dresdner Bank, claiming they had hit a “glass ceiling”.
7.30am: Claire Bright, her husband, and her lawyer Gillian Howard wait outside HBOS' main City offices at 33 Old Broad Street
7.43am: Alison Davies, from HBOS human resources department, comes out and invites Ms Bright and her lawyer inside, indicating that Lindsay Mackay, head of HBOS' treasury services, will be there. Ms Howard asks to wait until John Akker, her client's labour representative and a former general secretary of NATFHE, has arrived.
7.57am: Photographers snap Ms Bright walking towards the main entrance, while HBOS employees look on in apparent surprise.
8.07am: After further discussion, Ms Bright, Mr Akker and Ms Howard go inside. Ms Bright's husband waits at the entrance.
10.45am: The three individuals emerge. Ms Howard says her client has been dismissed without any reason being given, after a 2 1/2 hour wait. Ms Bright says she is “very disappointed”