Dismissed Starling Bank Solicitor Dismissed at the ‘worst possible time’ awarded £1.1m

An employee who was dismissed at “the worst possible time in recent history” has been awarded in excess of £1 million by an Employment Tribunal.

Ms. Gulnaz Raja was admitted as a Solicitor in 2010 and employed by Starling, the digital challenger bank. Immediately prior to her dismissal, her annual salary was £76,000.00 per annum.

In March 2020 she was dismissed from her employment after being informed by the in-house General Counsel that she was “not a Starling person”.

Ms. Raja was asthmatic and this caused her to be absent from work. She also needed to work from home and have time off during the pandemic. Her requests were not permitted, and she alleged that she was being victimised and was the subject of discrimination. These allegations were not investigated and she was ultimately dismissed.

Ms. Raja then pursued five heads of claim against Starling. To their credit, three of the allegations were unsuccessful, but two were upheld, including the Employment Tribunal concluding that she was the subject of unfavourable treatment due to her disability. Ms. Raja represented herself during the proceedings.

The Employment Judge stated her career had been “thrown severely off course” by the unfavourable treatment, and that she “lost her job at what would have been the worst possible time in recent history, and was presented with grave difficulties in obtaining new work at an extremely stressful and difficult time”.

Ms. Raja argued that it would take at least ten years to replace her lost earnings. Since her dismissal, she had started her own law firm and also obtained a part-time lecturing role at a University.

The Employment Judge went on to state that she was “doing her best in difficult circumstances”, and would be obliged to explain to potential employers that she had been dismissed after raising a health and safety matter. The Judge stated, “We could see from the Claimant’s career before and after her dismissal…significant evidence of hard work, resilience and adaptability”. Ms. Raja was awarded total compensation of £1.1million, including past and future loss of earnings, and other benefits.

Following the Hearing, a spokesman from Starling stated, “We are pleased the Tribunal found in favour of Starling on three of the five counts. But we are of course very disappointed in the finding against us on two counts, and do not feel it fairly reflects the Starling culture or how we look after our team”.

The lesson to be learnt from this case by employers is to investigate thoroughly and properly any allegations of discrimination made by employees and to take appropriate remedial action if there is any evidence of them being victimized or subjected to unfavourable treatment due to a disability.

If you require guidance on this issue or have any other queries in relation to employment or HR law, please contact Jonathan Moreland by email at jmm@swinburnemaddison.co.uk, Sharney Randhawa at shr@swinburnemaddison.co.uk or Phoebe Gogarty at pgg@swinburnemaddison.co.uk, or call them on 0191 3842441.

This article is for general information only.  It does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published and we would always recommend that you seek specific advice on any particular legal issue.

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