Court: Disciplinary rules not followed in 'unfair' sacking, lawyer suggests

Sanju Pal at the employment tribunal

Sanju Pal, from West Hampstead, exits the tribunal court at Victory House in central London on Tuesday, May 10 - Credit: Charles Thomson

A woman who claims she was unfairly dismissed from her job with a Fortune 500 company was not subjected to any formal disciplinary action before being sacked, a tribunal has heard. 

In fact, suggested her lawyer, Sanju Pal was repeatedly praised by her former employer, Accenture UK Ltd, in the months leading up to her dismissal. 

Ms Pal, 39, from West Hampstead, has taken the professional services firm to court for alleged race and disability discrimination

Accenture denies her allegation that she was sacked when chronic illness impacted her performance, but similarly performing white colleagues were kept on and even promoted. 

Barrister Elaine Banton, from 7BR chambers, suggested on Tuesday morning (May 10) that Accenture failed to follow its own disciplinary procedures, sent Ms Pal “mixed messages” and then sacked her without any formal warning. 

The firm refutes the claims.

It alleges Ms Pal was a poor performer who was offered frequent guidance on how to improve but failed to do so.  

PIP 

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Ms Banton spent Tuesday morning cross-examining the company's managing director Andy Young about the events leading up to Ms Pal’s sacking. 

Much of her questioning focused on the absence of any Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) - something she said Accenture’s policy stated “must” be created for employees deemed to be underperforming. 

“There isn’t a PIP in any document,” said Ms Banton. 

Mr Young replied that there had been “a set of very clear talent actions which I believe are equivalent”. 

“So there was a PIP in place, but no document? That’s your evidence to the tribunal?” asked Ms Banton. 

Mr Young repeatedly failed to give a yes or no answer to the question, instead reiterating that there was documentation showing Ms Pal had received feedback and advice. 

But Ms Banton questioned whether that was the same as the PIP process, which she said was “open and transparent so the individual knows what is being done”. 

Ms Pal has contended in her witness statement that her sacking was “completely unexpected”. 

“It’s not always used,” Mr Young said of the PIP process. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the feedback and actions were very clear.” 

He added: “The action was taken, just not in the form that you have highlighted earlier.” 

“Mixed Messages” 

Ms Banton questioned Mr Young about whether Accenture really had been “clear” about its alleged concerns over Ms Pal’s performance. 

In 2018, Ms Pal was deemed to be “not progressing” at Accenture – but she contends that she was simultaneously being praised for her work. 

In a November 2018 secret recording, made by Ms Pal of a conversation with Mr Young, she had complained to him that feedback on her performance was sometimes “patchy and not consistent”. 

Mr Young told the court that he did not believe the feedback was unclear, but rather that “there was a lack of willingness to accept that feedback”. 

Sanju Pal at the employment tribunal

Sanju Pal approaches the employment tribunal court at Victory House in central London on Tuesday, May 10 - Credit: Charles Thomson

Ms Banton showed Mr Young several feedback documents. 

One, from August 2018, showed that a senior manager had been able to select from a range of ratings and had rated Ms Pal’s performance as “Great Work”. 

He had described her as “a go-to person” who showed “willingness to roll up her sleeves and chase down the day-to-day issues”. 

In October 2018, whilst Ms Pal had received some critical feedback from a client, an email sent by Mr Young said this was “not genuine underperformance” and she needed only “minor course correction”, said Ms Banton. 

Emails from that time, she added, showed that “there isn’t a performance plan for the claimant, but there is for others”. 

“Mr Young, I’m going to suggest to you that at the time when you were working with the claimant you had a good relationship and you gave her good feedback but now, when you are giving evidence, you are adopting a defensive approach and looking at it through the lens of the fact that you dismissed her,” said Ms Banton. 

“The reasons for her dismissal [were] for her performance as manager and trajectory to senior manager, as I gave in my witness statement,” Mr Young insisted. 

“The criticality of the situation was very clear,” he later added. “She’d had a ‘not progressing’ rating, which everyone understands is not a good performance outcome. That’s something that needs immediate action.” 

Health 

Ms Banton questioned whether proper consideration had been given to Ms Pal’s health problems. 

Ms Pal’s case is that she consistently met or exceeded expectations, earning two promotions, until she developed medical conditions – sciatica, endometriosis and cysts on her ovaries – which caused her chronic pain, required surgery and resulted in long periods of sick leave. 

In late 2018/early 2019, Ms Banton said Ms Pal had been off work or on a “phased return” for four out of six months. 

The company drew up a document about her phased return which said she should work initially on “internal” projects, with a view to returning to client-facing work in March 2019. 

But in March 2019, said Ms Banton, the company began talking about firing Ms Pal, citing low “chargeability” - the amount of time she was available to work for external clients. 

Questioned by Ms Banton, Mr Young accepted that chargeability was monitored automatically and was not adjusted to account for a phased return to work. 

The tribunal, at Victory House in central London, is set to continue until Thursday. 

For more, read:

Hampstead woman tells tribunal of alleged racist discrimination