A judge has condemned editor Lionel Barber and the Financial Times after the unfair dismissal of a personal finance journalist.
Steve Lodge was sacked after he collided with a colleague, Alice Ross, on a staircase on 23 September 2011.
Ross had previously complained to the FT’s human resources department about the “sexist” conduct of Lodge, but, after a disciplinary hearing, the case was dropped.
However, the FT reached a “gentlemen’s agreement” with Lodge, which saw him move department, away from Ross, to become markets reporter.
While moving a crate of his belongings down the staircase, he collided with Ross, who claimed he had “hit” her and described the contact as a “thwack”.
She claimed then to feel “threatened” by Lodge when he told her to “watch yourself”.
The incident went to the top of the FT, with editor Barber describing it as “unprecedented”. Conceding that the collision may not have been intentional, he described Lodge’s conduct as “discourteous” at best.
But at an employment tribunal, Judge Hall-Smith described Ross’ various accounts of the event as “inconsistent” and said that her version was not given enough scrutiny.
Lodge’s dismissal did go to an appeal at the FT, but the judge pointed out that the man overseeing this – Caspar de Bono, a member of the FT board – was less senior than Barber.
Criticising Barber’s involvement, Judge Hall-Smith said: “I was driven to the conclusion that Lionel Barber adopted an approach from the outset which had attributed the entire responsibility to the claimant, and was unwilling to consider any possibility that Alice Ross herself might have borne some responsibility, in circumstances where she had mounted the steps at the time the claimant was descending carrying an awkward heavy crate.”
The National Union of Journalists had defended Lodge at his disciplinary hearing, where he was accused of being “sexist” and further hailed this as a “significant victory”.
“It has been a damning indictment on Lionel Barber and his HR department’s procedures. It showed that the management had failed to adopt an open-minded, fair response during the disciplinary hearing,” said NUJ deputy general secretary Barry Fitzpatrick.
“The judgment found that the Financial Times failed to act as a reasonable employer within the meaning of Section 98 (4) of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
“This is extremely serious and I will be seeking assurances that the FT will be changing its procedures to ensure that staff can expect fair treatment in the future. I will also be asking for Steve to be reinstated.”
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “This is a very important case and victory for the NUJ. It sends out a strong message to employers that we will not let our members be treated unfairly and that we will hold employers who act in this way to account.
“Steve is to be congratulated for his tenacity in pursuing this case and putting on record the injustice meted out by the FT and its management.”
A further hearing will determine any compensation – Lodge has previously suggested he would ask for £200,000 if he was not reinstated – to be awarded.