You are here

CFS claimants face 'uphill struggle' after HR manager loses £1.25m claim

Hickinbottom J insists on 'sense of proportion'

5 March 2012

Victims of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) face an “uphill struggle” after the High Court rejected a claim by a former HR manager who sued her American employer for £1.25m.

Joanna MacLennan worked in the London office of financial services company Hartford for just over a year before she felt “dizzy and ill” and left the office, never to return.

Roger Jones, partner at Kennedys, acted for Hartford Europe. He said that there were currently no academic articles or research to show that CFS was caused by stress.

“On the basis of medical evidence as it stands, CFS claimants face an uphill struggle,” Jones said.

“There was insufficient evidence to show a causal link. This will always be a difficulty for clients with this kind of case.”

On foreseeability, Jones said that defendants “had to be placed on notice that there was a substantial risk that the claimant would suffer psychological or physical harm”.

MacLennan was diagnosed with CFS a few months after she left her job in the spring of 2006.

Counsel for MacLennan argued that her work caused her stress, resulting in her immune system “being undermined to such an extent that she began suffering from recurring and persistent infections from January 2005, culminating in chicken pox in late 2005 and early 2006”. The chicken pox, it was alleged, triggered her CFS.

Hartford denied that the CFS was caused by her work and that it was foreseeable that she would become ill as a result of her work.

Hickinbottom J agreed that MacLennan worked hard, but said “a sense of proportion” needed to be maintained.

Although she worked long hours, the judge said she took compensatory leave when she worked at weekends, and between 16 May and 31 December 2005 had 36 days leave as well as the statutory holidays.

“This is not a case of an employee being made to work relentlessly, without breaks or rest,” he said.

Hickinbottom J said it was also right to take into account that MacLennan was herself in HR.

“In this claim, for the reasons set out above, I am satisfied neither that Mrs MacLennan’s CFS was caused by her work, nor that Hartford were at fault in that they could not have foreseen that her work placed her at risk of injury to her health.”

Hickinbottom J dismissed the claim.

David Marshall, managing partner of Anthony Gold, acted for MacLennan. He said he was “disappointed” by the ruling.

Categorised in:

Procedures Vulnerable Clients