Do victims of workplace bullies deserve over $2 million? Absolutely, according to London’s High Court, which last week awarded £817,317 in damages to a former assistant company secretary with City investment firm Deutsche Bank.
The court found Helen Green, 36, was subjected to “a deliberate and concerted campaign of bullying” by a gang of four female co-workers and a male colleague who wanted her job. Over 3½ years, starting from when she refused to join them for lunch, they blew raspberries at her, stared menacingly, pilfered files she was working on and loudly told the office that she smelled.
“I’m not some little wallflower,” Green told the Sunday Times. “I am used to the odd lewd comment. I didn’t crumble at the first push.”
Nonetheless, Green was regularly reduced to tears, suffered panic attacks and two nervous breakdowns, and was on suicide watch. She quit Deutsche Bank in 2003 and is now studying for a PhD in organisational behaviour.
Green isn’t the first bullied City employee to seek damages from a former employer. And her payout isn’t the biggest. But her case is remarkable for the criticism it has attracted for the perceived triviality of the bullying.
Perhaps the most vitriolic was the Daily Mail’s Amanda Platell, who railed against the “Alice in Wonderland world” of the High Court, “where highly educated, sophisticated women can play Little Miss Lost at the drop of an insult.”
“I could not find a single incident in the alleged behaviour of these supposed tormentors that would not be shrugged off by most of us as petty office politics, and therefore best dismissed with cold-shouldered contempt,” Platell said. “Surely any adult with a shred of self-respect would have dealt quickly with the bullying to which she was subjected.”
Sure, Green’s abuse isn’t on the same scale as that of Steven Horkulak, who won nearly £1 million in compensation after his boss at broker Cantor Fitzgerald physically threatened, publicly humiliated and screamed at him. Or Laurent Weinberger, who received over £100,000 from Tullett & Tokyo Liberty for months of anti-Semitic abuse including being made to wear a Nazi uniform.
But does workplace bullying have to get that outrageous before companies will act? Part of the “vicious circle” of bullying is that victims “fear that no one in authority will take their seemingly petty complaints seriously,” says Lindy McDowell in the Belfast Telegraph.
Helen Green’s compensation isn’t just for lost earnings, but as recognition that her ordeal was not petty and isn’t her fault. Unforuntately stinging companies with large cash payments is often the only way to get through to them that bullying is never OK.