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AstraZeneca wrongly fired senior scientist, court rules

Written by The Anand Market

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AstraZeneca wrongly dismissed a senior scientist working on one of its recently approved cancer drugs, a British employment tribunal has found.

The court ruled that the biggest company in the FTSE 100 discriminated against James Muir – a leading scientist who developed the pharmaceutical company’s drug, Truqap – on the basis of disability when ‘she dismissed him for serious misconduct, according to a judgment published this week.

The court found that the investigators had not taken into account his mental disability. The court said AstraZeneca had failed to comply with the labor code on disciplinary procedures by failing to ensure the impartiality of the appeal process.

Muir had worked at AstraZeneca, which has more than 8,700 employees in the UK, since 1998. He was the technical lead for the chemical development of Truqap, which was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in November to treat certain forms of breast cancer.

He suffered from a chronic mental health problem, suffered from depression and anxiety, and had at times taken extended leave due to his mental health, the judgment said.

He was fired in December 2020 after a 22-year career for misconduct related to bullying and harassment, after company investigators found he made angry outbursts during meetings on a stressful project and other behaviors amounting to “repeated inappropriate conduct.”

The dismissal took place despite no written complaint being filed against him.

According to the judgment, a union representative during the internal disciplinary proceedings said: “(Muir) has had no previous issues, no warnings, this goes straight to dismissal.” This doesn’t seem right. . . This is not how the AZ process should work.

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The court found that Muir’s “overly forceful” way of speaking to colleagues “was a consequence of his disability” and that investigators and those leading an internal appeal had failed to properly consider his mental health issues . Executives could have taken steps to support Muir rather than fire him, the court said.

“This was not abusive or discriminatory inappropriate behavior, but rather a violent outburst on the part of a person experiencing a great deal of anxiety,” the judgment states.

AstraZeneca acknowledged in court that Muir was disabled, but questioned whether the company or its employees were aware of his disability and whether he was asymptomatic at the time the harassment allegations were raised.

However, the court found that Muir’s supervisor and other relevant managers were aware of his disability. Muir’s supervisor called him a “broken man” in correspondence seen by investigators.

The tribunal also raised “genuine concerns” about meetings held between the investigator and appeals officers and found they breached the Acas code which sets out best practice in disciplinary procedures. Muir will be entitled to a 10 percent increase in compensation when remedial action is decided at a subsequent hearing due to the violation.

AstraZeneca said: “We respect this decision and look forward to the resolution of this matter for everyone involved. »

Muir’s lawyer, John Martin, said that “although this has been a particularly difficult ordeal for him, (Muir) is pleased with the judgment and glad that he persevered to have his case heard by the employment tribunal” .