A council accused an employee of ‘jumping on the Grenfell bandwagon’ when she told them she suffered PTSD after losing five members of her family in the fire, a tribunal heard.
Labibun Nessa, 42, launched a discrimination claim against her employers the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea after suffering PTSD, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
She spent a substantial amount of time at work responding to issues and the fallout arising from the fire at Grenfell Tower on June 14, 2017.
But she said her heartbreak was compounded on a personal level as she lost five members of her own family that day – who were the second cousins of her brother’s wife.
Ms Nessa is still employed by the council but has been off work with illness since February 2019 and her complaints are subject to a full hearing that has not yet been made public.
But in documents released this week, a tribunal judge heard in-house council solicitors questioned her trauma – with a suggestion she was ‘jumping on the Grenfell bandwagon’ with her claims.
Labibun Nessa, 42, (pictured) launched a discrimination claim against her employers the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea after suffering PTSD, anxiety and suicidal thoughts
The solicitor, named in documents as Ms Chopra, asked Ms Nessa to provide the names of the deceased, the precise details of their relationship, and whether she was present during the fire.
She added: ‘We understand that these issues are of a sensitive nature and were not explored during the internal process to avoid causing the claimant further anxiety.’
But the response was met with anger by Ms Nessa’s representatives and was described as ‘outrageous’.
Her solicitor, Mr Roberts, said: ‘The respondent is well aware that the claimant has a PTSD diagnosis and that the diagnosis and ongoing treatment were provided by and paid for by them via its Grenfell service.
‘Asking the claimant to identify the deceased family members and explain her relationship with them is not relevant to the question of disability.
‘We are dismayed that this has been requested so nonchalantly in circumstances where the respondent is aware of the diagnosis and paying for ongoing treatment.
‘We consider this has been done intentionally to antagonise the claimant and cause further upset to her by having her unnecessarily relive her trauma.
‘The claimant is psychologically fragile and the respondent’s request is insensitive and unreasonable.’
Ms Nessa said she spent a substantial amount of time at work responding to issues and the fallout arising from the fire at Grenfell Tower on June 14, 2017 (pictured)
But Ms Chopra responded and said: ‘If the claimant can demonstrate that she is not on the Grenfell ‘bandwagon’, she should not have a problem disclosing this information.
‘While the request may appear to be insensitive in the circumstances, but that is the nature of litigation.
‘The claimant has brought a claim and as such should expect that issues that are sensitive would also be explored.’
The tribunal judge later confirmed the council conceded that the claimant was disabled by virtue of the PTSD.
In addition, although the claimant did not name her five family members that died in the Grenfell fire, she did provide the following further details.
Her solicitor added: ‘The family members are related by marriage. That is they are the second cousins of the claimant’s brother’s wife.
‘She would see them at weddings and other family events but would not see them every day. In the claimant’s culture (Bangladeshi) whether you are related by blood or marriage, it is all considered to be family.
‘The claimant has never asserted that losing these family members was the sole cause of the PTSD. It was a contributing factor.
‘The claimant is aware of at least two other individuals who were employed by the respondent and worked on Grenfell and who were subsequently diagnosed with PTSD as a result, but neither of them had family members involved in the fire.’
Employment judge E Burns said: ‘Where there is an ongoing employment relationship, as in this case, respondents need to be careful when making allegations which impugn the honesty of the claimant.
‘In this case, the respondent was aware that the claimant was signed off as medically unwell.
‘It is not clear if this extended to being aware that the claimant was psychologically fragile, but the circumstances do suggest that the respondent should have tried to avoid causing distress to the claimant beyond that which no doubt arises from being involved in litigation against her employer in the first place.
‘The issue at hand, being discussed in the correspondence, was whether the claimant’s PTSD constituted a disability. The cause of the PTSD was not relevant.
‘Ms Chopra does not therefore appear to have a good reason to ask the claimant the questions she asked.
‘However, it is likely that she genuinely believed the questions did require an answer and that she was simply seeking what were, in her mind, the relevant facts.
‘The reference in the second email to a Grenfell bandwagon is very insensitive. My view is that the second emails implies that the claimant is on such a bandwagon.
‘Unless Ms Chopra has good grounds for accusing her of this, an email written in these terms has no place in litigation.’
The judge said these will be matters to be discussed at the main hearing.
Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council have been contacted for comment.