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Perfume giant settles disability discrimination and harassment claim

An epileptic woman who worked at perfume giant Estée Lauder has settled her case with the firm after winning a tribunal claim for bullying.13 Sep 2007

Free OUT-LAW Breakfast Seminars, UK-wide. 1:The new regime for prize draws and competitions. 2:How to monitor staff legallyThe woman had said that company managers called her "a silly little girl" after she told them of her condition. The tribunal found in her favour and was about to award damages when the she reached a settlement with Estée Lauder, the company told OUT-LAW.COM. The terms of the settlement have been kept secret.

Susy White was a business analyst with Estée Lauder in the Aramis and Designer Fragrances division of the company. She told her employers in 2005 that she had epilepsy and claimed that bullying followed.

White said that managing director Tony Measom and sales director Indra Pamamull called her a "silly little girl" who "lacked a business brain" and that she had a tendency to "throw her toys out the pram".

An employment tribunal found that White's two managers were guilty of direct discrimination, disability discrimination and harassment.

White was off sick from her job for three months. Sources close to White told reporters that when she returned to her job Measom tried to force her into a lesser, administrative post. She resisted this and, the source said, was subjected to a campaign of humiliation.

Estée Lauder said that it "sincerely regrets" the events. The company said that White's job was still open to her. It also said that it would change the way it trained management to avoid bullying in the future.

"The company accepts the tribunal's ruling that found against the company in this case and has taken very seriously the tribunal's judgement," said an Estée Lauder spokeswoman. "Because of the tribunal's findings the company will ensure that steps are taken to enhance current management training."

"The company sincerely regrets that events unfolded as they did and the distress caused to Mrs White," it said.

The tribunal was due to announce its compensation award the day after it announced its verdict, and there was speculation that it could be as much as £225,000. An Estée Lauder spokeswoman told OUT-LAW.COM, though, that the two parties reached a confidential settlement before the tribunal awarded compensation.

"An agreed settlement has been reached on Mrs White's claims and the tribunal proceedings are now closed," said the spokeswoman.

Ben Doherty, an employment law specialist at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said that very large damages awards are rare.

"Very large damages have been awarded in disability discrimination cases, but only in cases when it has resulted in a loss of a job and future earning prospects," he said. "Mrs White can also expect to be compensated for her injured feelings."

A case involving the West Yorkshire Police in 2003 has set a structure for payouts for injured feelings, said Doherty. "That tribunal gave guidance of three bands of compensation. The lowest band was £500 to £5,000, which was for one off incidents of discrimination and less serious types of discrimination."

"The middle band was £5,000 to £15,000 for more serious examples that did not merit an award of the highest band," said Doherty. "The top band of £15,000 to £25,000 was for the most serious cases where there were lengthy campaigns of serious discrimination including campaigns of sexual harassment."

There is no upper limit to the amount that an employee can be awarded in disability discrimination cases. Lost earnings compensation is generally awarded only until the employee finds similarly paid employment, or for one or two years.

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