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Brocade wrongly sacked award-winning salesman who depended on company insurance for cancer treatment

'Global benefit' chief: Broadcom buyout means pay your own way

Brocade sacked a former Sales Manager of the Year who was suffering from cancer when the company was bought by Broadcom – a decision that led to the man's health insurance being cancelled.

The details emerged when former sales engineer Mr M Richards won his case for unfair dismissal against Brocade. Reading Employment Tribunal ruled last week that managers adopted a "meaningless" redundancy consultation process.

Despite Richards suffering a heart attack when he heard about the buyout, HR personnel not only selected the 13-year company veteran for redundancy but cancelled his health insurance – despite knowing he relied on it to treat his cancer.

The company was found to have unfairly dismissed Richards but he lost his claim for disability discrimination.

Buyout and sackings

Broadcom bought Brocade for $5.5bn in 2016, completing the deal the following year. At the time the semiconductor slinger wanted to get rid of Brocade's IP Networking business unit. With no buyer emerging, it decided to make some redundancies.

Selection for redundancy was simple: when the buyout completed in November 2017, Brocade staff were placed in either the Storage Area Network (SAN) unit or the IP unit. The tribunal hearing was told that everyone understood that "alignment" to the IP unit meant redundancy, ahead of Broadcom going through the legally required motions.

"The respondent's decision not to consult employees during the alignment process rendered the formal consultation process meaningless," said Employment Judge Hawksworth, presiding. Halfway through the "consultation" all IP unit staff "had their IT access removed", while their SAN colleagues were given Broadcom email addresses.

The ruling stated: "It was very clear to us from the evidence we heard and read that the decisions by senior managers as to who would be aligned to the SAN business unit were taken in an ad hoc, subjective way, without any formal assessment and without reliance on clear objective criteria."

Private health insurance cut off

When Richards found out about the Brocade buyout in 2016 he suffered a heart attack. The man was not well, having been diagnosed with renal cancer in 2005 – a year after joining the business – but the condition was successfully managed through Brocade's employee health insurance.

Richards had been successful within Brocade, winning its EMEA Sales Manager of the Year award in 2011 and rising to the rank of Director EMEA Operations, number two to EMEA veep Marcus Jewell. This didn't save him from allocation to SAN.

"The claimant said he would accept a change in role so that he could remain employed and keep his private medical insurance, even if that meant having lower responsibilities," said the judgment.

Jewell, who himself was leaving, agreed to protect Richards and redrew his role to keep him inside SAN. Brocade's UK HR department told the salesman he was in SAN.

Senior managers, however, had other ideas. With Jewell leaving, his number two had no role, they said. Jewell was not happy. A Skype chat with someone identified in the judgment only as Brocade's "UK HR lead" revealed what was really going on.

MJ: bit pissed with [Stuart Cooper, VP Systems Engineering EMEA] et al on this I worked to save them and they have thrown 2 under the bus
HR: pressure on numbers I think
MJ: I get it, but this is not objective there are weaker people
HR: talking to [Mr Cooper] this was a role based decision rather than skills or capacity

Meanwhile, Richards was given the bad news by an HR worker, named as "Ms Dhanoa from HR." She said the company's change of heart was handled at "corporate level" and "no notes were taken" of the meeting – but offered him a settlement agreement, Richards having instructed solicitors by this point.

The tribunal recounted:

As a result of the dismissal, the claimant lost his access to private medical insurance. This has affected the treatment he receives. He has longer waiting times for diagnosis and treatment and less continuity of care than previously. This has caused him increased pain and worry and has had a significant impact on his quality of life and overall health.

No health insurer would take on Richards; either his pre-existing diagnosis or the cost of the premiums made it impossible for him to find new cover.

An unnamed "senior manager for global benefits" within Brocade made the decision to cut off the life-extending insurance policy, telling Richards through Ms Dhanoa that he would have to pay his own way.

Richards won his case for unfair dismissal and failure to make reasonable adjustments for his disability, Brocade having failed to apply an objective redundancy policy or adequately consult with him. His complaints of direct and indirect age and disability discrimination failed.

"We have not found 'something more' from which we could conclude that the difference in treatment was because of the claimant's disability. The problem with the respondent's approach was that it failed to give proper consideration to the claimant's disability," concluded the judge.

The full judgement is here [PDF]. ®

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