Sacked council boss with PTSD after helping Grenfell victims in record £4.6m payout

Rachael Wright-Turner, Tri-borough Director of Commissioning for Children's Services at Kensington and Chelsea Council, attends a public meeting at St Clements Church in west London, four weeks on from the Grenfell Tower fire.
Rachael Wright-Turner, pictured in 2018 at a public meeting at St Clements Church in west London, four weeks on from the Grenfell Tower fire. (Alamy)

A former council chief who suffered PTSD after working with families involved in the Grenfell Tower fire has been awarded a record payout after suing her bosses for disability discrimination and harassment.

The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham has reportedly been ordered to pay £4.6m in compensation and damages to Rachael Wright-Turner by an employment tribunal in what is believed to be the highest ever award granted against a public body.

According to the Mail on Sunday, 52-year-old Wright-Turner, was dismissed from her role as director of public service reform with the council in 2018 after taking sickness leave due to post-traumatic stress disorder.

She had developed the condiition while working at Kensington and Chelsea council in support of families affected by the tragedy at Grenfell Tower in 2017, which left 72 people dead.

Smoke billows from Grenfell Tower as firefighters attempt to control a huge blaze on June 14, 2017 in west London. The massive fire ripped through the 27-storey apartment block in west London in the early hours of Wednesday, trapping residents inside as 200 firefighters battled the blaze. Police and fire services attempted to evacuate the concrete block and said
Rachael Wright-Turner developed post-traumatic stress disorder after working with families affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy. (Getty)

Wright-Turner went on to move to Hammersmith and Fulham, where she was later signed off work after a meeting with colleagues at a pub triggered her PTSD, causing her to have a panic attack that resutled in her going to hospital.

The tribunal reportedly heard that shortly after this, senior council officers at Hammersmith and Fulham falsely claimed she had been drunk.

Wright-Turner had also been diagnosed separately with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), with the council's former chief executive reportedly saying her brain "doesn't work like other people's".

'Acting like some sort of drama queen'

Wright-Turner was dismissed while on sick leave without the opportunity to discuss or challenge the decision, prompting her to take her former employers to the tribunal that resulted in the payout. She reportedly said: "I don't think they understood how closely I'd been working with the families in the aftermath of Grenfell. They treated my PTSD as if I was acting like some sort of drama queen."

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday the 52-year-old said the case had cost her "everything", leading to the collapse of her marriage and a loss of income that left her fighting repossession of her home. She said she was aware of the cost of her award to taxpayers but had no choice but to try to clear her name.

According to the newspaper, Hammersmith and Fulham - which was also reportedly found to have lied in evidence to the tribunal - said it was 'very sorry' for what she had been through but would appeal the decision as it has 'always considered' her claim to be 'vastly excessive, disputed and highly unprecedented'.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 14:  Fire fighters drench the burning 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London on June 14, 2017 in London, England.  The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has declared the fire a major incident as more than 200 firefighters are still tackling the blaze while at least 50 people are receiving hospital treatment.  (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Wright-Turner said she was treated like a 'drama queen'. (Getty)

How are claims calculated in discrimination cases?

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), while there is a maximum award for unfair dismissal, this is not the case for discrimination awards, which are said to be ‘uncapped’.

This means the amount of compensation awarded for discrimination depends on various factors. Referred to as an award for ‘injury to feelings’, the amount can depend on:-

  • the nature and severity of the discrimination or harassment

  • how long the discrimination or harassment has gone on for

  • the degree of hurt or distress suffered

There is no fixed formula for tribunals to calculate awards for injury to feelings, the CIPD says, but there are some guidelines thanks to previous cases, as well as different bandings when it comes to compensation for injury to feelings in discrimination cases.

According to the advice, only the most extreme cases would attract an award for injury to feelings in excess of £49,300.

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