One of the world’s biggest law firms bullied a member of staff over her heavy workload and singled her out because she made personal phone calls in a foreign language, it has been claimed.
Priti Dhulia, a tax consultant with Clifford Chance, has accused the firm of harassing her after managers repeatedly piled excessive workloads onto her.
She also claims that she was picked on compared to colleagues because her private phone calls were conducted in Gujarati rather than English.
Mrs Dhulia, 54, is now suing Clifford Chance, one of the ‘Magic Circle’ of top law firms, for £150,000 damages, saying the experience left her shattered.
She says she developed an adjustment disorder, went on to suffer severe depression and anxiety and was forced to take a year away from work.
Her husband Viren said: “It’s been a nightmare. They were out to get her. She was devoted to her work. She would be working at home until 2am sometimes.”
Mrs Dhulia, from Hounslow, west London, worked for Clifford Chance from September 1995 to September 2015, during which she was promoted to tax consultant, preparing its partners’ Inland Revenue returns.
Clifford Chance had a revenue of £1.54 billion in the last financial year and its senior partners can earn more than £1 million a year.
Mrs Dhulia claims that over the years more and more work was assigned to her by Philip Courtney, her head of department, until she was carrying a far heavier workload than her colleagues.
According to a writ lodged with the High Court she worked far longer than her contracted 35-hour week and was frequently forced to work at home in the evening and at weekends.
It is claimed that she was allocated half of the partners’ tax returns to process, compared to the 33 per cent and 17 per cent allocated to two other colleagues
Despite this she claims that Mr Courtney and others repeatedly criticised her workrate, saying she was taking too long and not doing enough.
Mrs Dhulia was also accused of lacking “a proper work ethic”. The writ claims: “Mr Courtney’s attitude to [her] was in general aggressive and akin to that of a bully.”
Although she complained to the firm’s human resources department about being overworked, she claims nothing was done to help her.
Mrs Dhulia’s treatment is said to have worsened when colleagues began making snide remarks about the number of private phone calls she made, allegedly singling her out because some of them were in a foreign language.
In one email to Mr Courtney, her line manager, Robin Hutchins, said: “The fact that these conversations are often not in English doesn’t help her (ie the fact that Natalie & Mary’s private calls are invariably in English helps make them blend more easily into the work continuum.)”
Mrs Dhulia maintains her private calls were no more frequent than those of her colleague sin the same office.
Mr Dhulia, 57, who runs a stationery and art equipment shop, said: “It was ridiculous. My wife was speaking in Gujarati to her sister who was ill and had to have an emergency procedure. It was an urgent matter. Other people would make personal calls but because they were in English nobody cared.”
Mrs Dhulia claims that her excessive workload was not even addressed when another colleague herself became ill through stress and overwork.
In July 2011 Mrs Dhulia broke down in tears during an “assertiveness at work” course and complained she was being bullied, but says that again no steps were taken to deal with the issue.
Three years later Mrs Dhulia was sacked after sending out a letter without consulting two senior colleagues, which was deemed to be seriously negligent.
Although her dismissal was rescinded just days later, she was left “constantly tearful, unable to sleep or eat, anxious and depressed” and her GP signed her off work with severe stress.
Mrs Dhulia eventually resigned from Clifford Chance in September 2014.
After a year off work – due to what a psychologist diagnosed as “an adjustment disorder and occupational problems as a result of overwork and workplace bullying” – Mrs Dhulia returned to work as a tax consultant for an estate agent, but earns 30 percent less than previously.
She continues to need anti-depressant medication, according to the writ.
A spokesperson for Clifford Chance said: “We disagree with the version of events presented in this case, however it would be inappropriate to comment further while legal proceedings are ongoing.”