An 88-year-old woman sacked from her job as an NHS secretary has become the oldest person ever to sue an employer for age discrimination.
Eileen Jolly was dismissed in January last year over claims she did not properly use a computer system at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.
The NHS trust admits she was unfairly dismissed as she was not given the chance to appeal, but insists the decision to sack her was not made on the basis of her age.
However, Mrs Jolly says an internal report into her work compiled by a manager included ‘unpleasant remarks’ about her age and health.
Eileen Jolly (pictured), 88, was dismissed in January last year over claims she did not properly use a computer system at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading
She said: ‘I felt as though [he] had assumed that at my age and because of my health I was a liability and incapable of change, and had to go.’
The widowed grandmother, who has a heart condition and walks with a stick, was particularly hurt that one colleague was quoted as saying: ‘It was always a concern that you could walk in and find Eileen dead on the floor.’
Mrs Jolly told an employment tribunal last week that she had not taken a day off sick for ten years, despite having had a cardiac arrest at work in 2004 when she had to be resuscitated by a surgeon.
She said: ‘It had been my intention to continue to work for as long as I could – until I was at least 90 years old.’
The breast surgeon she worked for, Brendan Smith, described Mrs Jolly as ‘reliable and meticulous’, saying she was being used as a ‘scapegoat’ for management failings.
He accused hospital managers of bullying, saying: ‘Eileen was at the bottom of the tree. I think they made an example of her because heads had to roll.’
Mrs Jolly, who had worked for the NHS in Berkshire since 1991, was blamed for not uploading details of women awaiting non-urgent breast reconstruction surgery to a new database.
The error was partly blamed for 14 women having to wait more than a year for surgery, putting the hospital’s trust at risk of a Government fine. Mrs Jolly insisted she had not been properly trained to use the electronic patient record system.
The NHS trust admits she was unfairly dismissed from at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading as she was not given the chance to appeal
She assumed that Mr Smith had uploaded the patients’ details, while she kept her own printed version of the waiting list in her drawer.
She was suspended after the error was discovered.
She said: ‘It was humiliating. I felt degraded. I felt as if I was being escorted off the premises in case I did something I shouldn’t.’
After her sacking, Mrs Jolly was prescribed antidepressants and felt too ashamed to tell anyone what had happened, saying instead that she had ‘retired.’ Her husband died two weeks ago without knowing what really happened.
The hearing in Reading heard how Michael Eastwell, the trust’s Deputy Patient Pathway Manager, compiled a report into her work which found she had a ‘fundamental misunderstanding’ of her role.
It ruled she had broken her contract by failing to ensure that all patients on the database received ‘timely treatment’.
The report led to her being dismissed ‘on grounds of capability’ for ‘a catastrophic failure’.
Mrs Jolly’s barrister Mark Green said that her sacking showed hospital bosses were guilty of ‘insidious stereotyping about elderly people ’.
He added: ‘They had made a decision that they could not retrain her and it was because of her age and disability. She was treated callously after a 25-year career and suffered greatly.’
Paul Wilson, representing the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, said the fact that Mrs Jolly had been given a permanent contract in 2012 and was later given a new job as a patient pathway co-ordinator – responsible for looking after all administrative issues relating to each patient’s care from referral to discharge – indicated that the trust did not practise age discrimination.
The tribunal panel has deferred judgment on her claims of age and disability discrimination until a later date.