Friday18 August 2017

Former Feilden & Mawson partner sues for discrimination

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Documents filed at employment tribunal by Elsie Owusu says practice had “culture of bullying”

RIBA Council member Elsie Owusu has begun an unfair dismissal claim against former employer Feilden & Mawson at a London employment tribunal.

Owusu, who hit the headlines last December when she made a complaint of “institutional racism” at the RIBA, is taking the firm to tribunal for unfair dismissal as well as sex and race discrimination along with breach of contract.

A 32 page document – called a Grounds of Claim – was filed at the London Central Employment Tribunal on Kingsway last Friday.

According to documents, Owusu, who worked at Feilden & Mawson for a decade, was dismissed on October 5 last year.

She alleges that she was fired after failing to secure an equity partnership with the practice, which she says was promised to her as a condition of contract when she joined.

Her claim says: “The Claimant has been denied promotion, access to benefits, expelled and subject to other detriments.”

In the documents, Owusu says the practice continually overlooked her as a candidate to become an equity partner, instead favouring younger, less qualified, white men as part of a plan to promote a “new generation” through the business.

She adds: “Kim Graham was an equity partner at the start of the LLP and was already an equity partner when the Claimant joined the firm. Since then no other females have been made equity partner. Phil Bodie (white male) was made equity partner in 2008, Stuart Jones (white male) was made equity partner in 2010/2011 and Pavel Nasadil in 2013. [Feilden & Mawson] have made younger, less experienced and less qualified white men equity partner without any procedures or competition process being applied to them.”

And following a meeting with senior partner Alan Robson and manging partner Robert Todd, the 62-year-old says she was sacked for “not fitting in”.

Her claims alleges: “During that interview the Claimant was subject to offensive discriminatory remarks when she was unfairly accused of not ‘fitting in’. In addition the phrase ‘outsider’ was used, again discriminatory and highly surprising after almost 10 years within the practice.

“Robert Todd said there was a perception among the partners that she was ‘outside’. The Claimant said she wasn’t outside, but, that as a female black architect, was different.”

Owusu also alleges the practice promoted “a culture of bullying from the managing partner down” which at one point, she claims, included cutting her holiday entitlement from 30 days to seven.

Feilden & Mawson declined to comment.

Owusu’s complaints to the RIBA last year included claims there was an institutional culture of sexism, racism, ageism and class discrimination at the group which was dressed up as “banter”.

She told BD at the time: “The atmosphere in the Council chamber is like a boys’ school. Sexist comments are made under the heading of banter. It’s horrible.”

RIBA president Jane Duncan said: “We have asked Elsie to put these broadened allegations to RIBA directly and will deal with the matter in the appropriate way.”


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