A senior employee was unfairly dismissed after a bowel cancer operation, an Employment Tribunal has ruled.

In the case of Ms Adeline Willis v Nat West Bank plc, the tribunal ruled that Natwest was liable under the Equality Act for discriminatory dismissal. 

After five days of evidence and three days of deliberations, the London Central Employment Tribunal this week ruled that Ms Willis was unfairly dismissed and that her claim that the Bank discriminated against her contrary to section 15 of the Equality Act was also successful on five counts.

According to her lawyers at Constantine Law, Ms Willis, 44, was a senior and successful employee of NatWest Bank with over six years’ service. She was told by the bank that she was to be dismissed on the grounds of redundancy, two days after surgery to remove a malignant tumour.  

In its Judgment, the Tribunal rejected the bank’s claim that Ms Willis’s role was redundant. It expressly found, contrary to the case advanced by NatWest, that the work that she was employed to do on a secondment to help ensure the Bank complied with its regulatory Operational Continuity in Resolution obligations “had not ceased or diminished”.   

HR Evidence

Unusually, the Tribunal found, it had “clear evidence of discriminatory intent” by Ms Willis’s managers in the form of a recorded telephone conversation with HR.

This happened just a few weeks after her cancer diagnosis first became known, during which they sought advice on terminating Ms Willis’s employment early because she was likely to be absent from work.  

According to Ms Willis’s case, she was “physically and emotionally in turmoil” as NatWest dismissed her from her £160,000-a year position without any offer of alternative employment in April 2020, just eight months after her bowel cancer diagnosis.

Employment Judge Spencer, delivering the Judgment on behalf of the Tribunal also found that Ms Willis had been unfairly dismissed, and that the bank failed to show a potentially fair reason for her dismissal which was “tainted with discrimination”. 

The Bank was clear that they still had a requirement for someone in that role at the Claimant’s level and even went on to appoint Ms Willis’s replacement not long afterwards. 

The Tribunal has encouraged the parties to settle the case to avoid the need for a remedy hearing later this year. Ms Willis seeks long term losses which exceed £2 million.

Moving forward

Will Clayton, Employment Partner at Constantine Law said, “I am so pleased for my client to secure this result.  Although I hoped, for Ms Willis’s sake, that we would settle this case before the full hearing, that wasn’t to be. 

“Instead, we had to fight every inch of the way.  Now that we have this judgement in which the Tribunal clearly saw through the Bank’s hollow defence, it makes all the hard work worthwhile.”

Ms Willis commenting on the outcome, said: “I am delighted by the judgement and relieved that the emotional stress this process has caused is nearly over. 

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank my family, friends, and legal team for the continued support they have given me throughout this gruelling process.”

Natwest has been contacted for comment.