Former director sues council for libel and sexual discimination
A £123,000-a-year council director who was sacked while undergoing cancer treatment is suing the authority for libel and sex discrimination.
The Sentinel has learned that Jeanette McGarry is taking Stoke-on-Trent City Council to the High Court and an employment tribunal in two separate law suits.
She has alleged that the council unfairly discriminated against her on gender and disability grounds when it dismissed her as director of housing environmental and neighbourhood services (HENS) in April.
And she claims that a council statement made by chief executive John van de Laarschot to the media about her dismissal was defamatory.
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The April 20 statement had questioned Mrs McGarry's performance and conduct in the post.
Mrs McGarry, who had previously been chief executive of East Staffordshire Borough Council, had joined the city council in June last year to take the helm of the newly-formed HENS directorate.
Mrs McGarry had left East Staffordshire "by mutual consent" in December, 2008 after being suspended for alleged misconduct.
It later emerged that the borough council paid Mrs McGarry £121,333 when she left – equivalent to 10 months' basic pay for loss of office – and a further three months' wages in lieu of notice.
After joining the city council Mrs McGarry was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year.
She received her dismissal letter on the day she returned from hospital surgery.
Her employment tribunal case is expected to allege that the council refused her request to work part-time while she was undergoing treatment, and she was instead put on "gardening leave".
But the case is also understood to involve allegations of sexist treatment.
The employment tribunal hearing is set to take place in Birmingham in July.
It is expected to focus on whether Mrs McGarry was in an extended probation period when she was dismissed, as the council claimed, or whether this had lapsed, making her a full-time employee.
The libel case, which is due to be heard at a later date in the Queen's Bench Division of London's High Court is being brought against Mr van de Laarschot and the council.
Mrs McGarry was unavailable for comment.
However, a source has told The Sentinel that she has taken the action to try to restore her professional reputation.
He said: "Jeanette feels that her dismissal was unjustified, and that the press release issued to the media afterwards was effectively a career-ending statement, due to the damaging claims it made about her behaviour.
"She also feels she was unfairly made into a scapegoat for delays with the Kier Stoke housing venture, which had been a problem long before she arrived at the council."
Louis Charalambous, of London-based law firm Simons, Muirhead and Burton, who is representing Mrs McGarry in both cases, said: "Employment and libel proceedings have been issued in the Employment Tribunal service in Birmingham and the High Court in London on Jeanette McGarry's behalf.
"I expect both cases to come to trial next year."
The council declined to comment on the two cases.