Accenture faces discrimination accusations from ex-employee

16 May 2022 3 min. read
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West Hamstead based Sanju Pal is seeking more than £180,000 from professional services company Accenture, where she worked for just under a decade. The award-winning charity founder was dismissed in 2019, something she claims was discriminative against her race and disability.

Beginning work as an Analyst at Accenture’s UK wing in 2009, Sanju Pal was promoted to Consultant, and then to Manager by 2013. The firm’s internal evaluations through that time determined that she was performing above or on par every year bar one. In 2011, she was rated “below”, but worked on development points to not only win promotion, but be rated “significantly above” for the next two years.

Her performance levels remained consistent for the coming years – though in 2016, she received no rating – as she took a year of absence to focus on RISE.

Accenture UK faces discrimination accusations from ex-employee

The education charity Pal founded has won plaudits on multiple occasions – and saw her pick up an Asian Women of Achievement Award in 2013 and later, a government Points of Light Award, when she was praised by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Just three years after this break in her career, however, Pal was handed her marching orders by Accenture. In 2017, according to reports from local newspaper Ham&High, Pal began to suffer from chronic pain, having developed sciatica and endometriosis. At the same time, she had depression and repeatedly developed ovarian cysts, which she states “had a long-term adverse impact on her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

In 2018, this saw Accenture calculate she had only been available to work 62.4% of the time. Meanwhile, more and more time passed since Pal’s last promotion. With “time at level” (TAL) something which Accenture reportedly treats as a red flag, allegedly recommending to employees that if they do not win promotion in a four-year period, they should look for other opportunities. Pal alleges that her TAL, combined with her two instances of having not performed at par were used to show she was “not progressing” – and she was sacked in July 2019.

As a result, Pal has brought the matter to a tribunal, claiming she was unfairly dismissed due to her race and disability. Pal contends that her diminished performance “cannot be separated” from her health conditions, and that instead of supporting her, Accenture sacked her – while retaining white staff who were performing at a similar level.

In recent years, Accenture has been making efforts to address race equality and inclusion in its company, across its global operations. In 2017, the firm launched a group-wide campaign titled ‘Inclusion Starts With I’. In the UK, this has seen it regularly named as one of the best UK employers for race equality.

Accenture’s case

Facing a claim of £180,000 in damages, Accenture denies all the allegations, and disputes the claims that Pal performed consistently, as well as whether she was offered support. The firm’s legal filing suggested that, “despite the support offered to her, the claimant’s performance failed to improve to the standard required."

Meanwhile, Accenture’s legal representative – employment law specialist Katherine Eddy – cross-examined Pal at length at an early hearing, during which time she put it to Pal that she had an "intemperate” demeanour and had attracted negative feedback repeatedly. Cases cited were an HR email from 2015, in which one employee recalled a “rude conversation with [Pal] about me being off sick last week, which has left me quite upset”; and an incident in 2018, which allegedly saw Pal have “a serious blow-up" with a client, requiring the intervention of senior managers.

Pal countered that she had never had the incident raised with her formally. She also argued that many of the criticisms now being used to justify her sacking were never raised with her, and the company had repeatedly praised her during the same period. The tribunal is due to continue throughout May.