Finance executive, 57, wins £125,000 in age discrimination case

Finance executive, 57, wins £125,000 in age discrimination case after CEO, 29, told her ‘calm down… don’t let the hormones get out of control’

  • Louise McCabe, 57, became a founding director of start up firm Selazar in 2014
  • In April 2020 the firm’s CEO Jack Williams made the comment to Mrs McCabe
  • Mrs McCabe made a note of the comment before taking a discrimination case
  • An employment appeal tribunal in London awarded finance executive £125,000  

A middle aged female finance executive has won £125,000 in an age discrimination claim after her younger boss told her ‘Calm down.. don’t let the hormones get out of control.’

Louise McCabe was 55 when tech CEO Jack Williams made the remark during a ‘heated exchange’ at a company meeting, an employment tribunal heard.

The 29 year old entrepreneur viewed older people as ‘not familiar’ with the IT business and regarded finance director Mrs McCabe as ‘a menopausal woman’, a judge found.

And after she raised a series of concerns about how staff at the e-commerce firm he founded were being treated, he stripped her of her role as a company director and eventually fired her.

Louise McCabe was 55 when tech CEO Jack Williams made the remark during a ‘heated exchange’ at a company meeting, an Central London employment tribunal heard

Mrs McCabe – now 57 – has been awarded £125,604 after successfully suing for age discrimination and unfair dismissal, having been left ‘wounded’ by her ‘discriminatory’ dismissal.

The central London tribunal heard that the experienced finance expert – who runs her own Midlands-based accountancy company – was a founding director and shareholder at the firm Selazar in 2014.

The start-up – which has offices in Belfast and Leicester – offers retailers help with their business through AI software and assists with the distribution of goods.

In January 2020 the tribunal was told Mrs McCabe infuriated the company’s Chief Technology Officer – and company co-founder – Gareth Burns when she emailed a customer: ‘I know that talking to techies can get frustrating at times, especially when there is a feeling that they aren’t listening.

‘Their brains are wired differently to us more practically minded people ( not that I am as practical as you and they drive me mad at times, so I can only guess at how you feel!!)’.

Mr Burns complained to Mr Williams that the comments were ‘insulting and disrespectful’ and that the email had been a ‘massive slap in the face’, leading Mrs McCabe to formally apologise.

CEO of start-up Selazar Jack Williams, 29, was found to view McCabe as ‘a menopausal woman’ who didn’t think old people were familiar with the IT business. He told Mrs McCabe to ‘calm down… don’t let the hormones get out of control’

The tribunal heard that in April that year she warned Mr Williams about making unrealistic sales projections to the company’s investors amid a budget that showed the firm losing £500,000 that year.

At an executive meeting the following month, Mr Burns complained about the performance of one of Mrs McCabe’s team and described her department as ‘dysfunctional’ and a ‘shambles’ before calling on her to ‘step up to the mark’.

The finance director was making notes of the meeting, the hearing was told.

‘(She) recorded that she replied that she only had one pair of hands,’ the tribunal heard. ‘She then recorded that Mr Williams said, ‘Calm down.. don’t let the hormones get out of control’.’

Although Mr Williams denied saying this, the tribunal concluded he had, noting that Mrs McCabe said she believed he ‘would not have said this to a younger person’.

Over the next few months, Mrs McCabe raised a series of concerns about the mental health of the team member who Mr Burns had criticised, saying that he had been ‘pushed too hard for someone so young’.

In a ‘position paper’ delivered on July 9, she defended the employee and accused the executive team of denying him a much needed holiday.

Five days later, the tribunal heard Mr Williams asked permission of one of the firm’s investors to remove her from her role as a director – while she was on holiday.

When she complained about this on her return he told her the company had lost confidence in her, that being a director was a ‘privilege’ and that she was being placed on gardening leave.

Mrs McCabe told the hearing that in August she was phoned by a recruitment consultant who told her ‘in embarrassment’ that he had been instructed by Mr Williams to find ‘a younger team member who was more in tune with a young tech start company’, to look after finances.

The next month she raised a formal grievance about her treatment and claimed she had been targeted for raising concerns about the treatment of staff.

The tribunal heard that an investigation by the firm found that over the summer Mrs McCabe had sent more than 500 emails and documents from the company to her private email address.

In late September she was dismissed for sharing confidential information with one of the company’s investors when she sent him a copy of her grievance.

Concluding that Mrs McCabe had been the victim of age discrimination by Mr Williams Judge Jillian Brown said: ‘On all the evidence, the Tribunal decided that it could conclude that at least part of the reason for (her) dismissal was her age.

‘(Selazar) had asked (the recruitment consultant) to look for a younger person for the finance department; Mr Williams viewed (Mrs McCabe) as an older woman; Mr Williams considered that older people were not familiar with IT businesses.’

Ruling that she had also been unfairly dismissed, the Tribunal concluded that the main reason for her sacking was her raising concerns about the treatment of her team member and her rebuttal of Mr Burns’ criticism of him.

‘The immediate background to Mr Williams’ determination to dismiss (Mrs McCabe) was considerable animosity from Mr Burns towards (her),’ the tribunal found.

‘In executive meetings on Mr Burns had made accusations in trenchant terms about (her) department and about (her team member’s) competence.

‘(Mrs McCabe’s) position paper had disproven Mr Burns’ criticism of (the team member). The position paper had said that (he) had gone off work, sick, due to his treatment by the Company.

‘The Tribunal considered that (her) position paper had made clear that Mr Burns had been responsible for denying (the team member’s) holiday and for the pressure (he) felt that he was under.

‘The Tribunal inferred that the primary reason in Mr Williams’ mind for deciding that (she) would be dismissed was (her) protected disclosures about Mr Ross, contained in her position paper.’

At the remedy hearing, Judge Brown and the panel accepted Mrs McCabe’s evidence of being ‘indignant and wounded’ by her ‘discriminatory’ dismissal.

She continued: ‘Mrs McCabe became very distressed and lost self confidence to the extent that she often felt unable to leave the house. She felt unable to look for work with another employer.

‘Her distress was such that she alternated between periods when she was unable to sleep and periods when she was utterly exhausted

‘The tribunal accepted that she was, and remains, very upset and humiliated by her dismissal. She was visibly distressed when giving evidence about her dismissal and her subsequent feelings of desperation and lack of confidence, even in leaving her home.

‘She continues to suffer low self esteem and continues to feel unable to look for work elsewhere, two years after her dismissal.’

In total Mrs McCabe was awarded £125,604.98 in compensation, which included £20,000 for injury to feeling.

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