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Popular Barclays VP says boss precipitated mental breakdown

Khilna Morjaria has had a difficult life. Growing up in Kenya, she witnessed her father beat her mother and focused on academic excellence as a route out. After achieving three grade As at A level, she studied a bachelor's degree in computing and management science in the UK before joining Barclays in London as an assistant vice president in the tax centre in 2014.

For the next five years, Morjaria sent money home to her mother and three sisters. She was a strong performer with a reputation for being kind to colleagues. But in 2019, things started to unravel.

Tomorrow, Morjaria's case against Barclays will be heard in a London employment tribunal. Nearly two and a half years after she left the bank, she's suing Barclays and seeking damages of £250k on the grounds of alleged harassment and discrimination.

Barclays denies the charges. Irrespective of the merits of the case, many of Morjaria's former colleagues who are still at Barclays wish her well. "When she came to find out about my operation she bought me a huge bouquet of flowers," recalls one, speaking anonymously to eFinancialCareers. "- Not a single person I actually worked with, got me anything or even gave me a hug." Another claims that Morjaria consoled her when she found her crying in the toilets: "She went and got her make up bag, came back and helped cover my red eyes and tear stained cheeks with her own makeup. She then took me downstairs, got me a coffee and food and waited with me whilst I ate. I told her I didn't feel comfortable explaining why I was crying. She never pushed me to explain."

The catalyst for Morjaria's serious mental health issues was what she alleges was her treatment by her manager, a director in the regulatory strategy and governance team. Mojaria's claim isn't against the manager himself, and he isn't a witness in the case, but Morjaria asserts that her mental health suffered when he allegedly took credit for her work and intentionally blocked her own promotion to director level.

"For some time, I had felt that [the manager] was reluctant to let me lead on projects and presentations. It seemed if there was credit given for the work I had submitted then [the manager] always lead the presentation giving the impression that it was his work without actually saying so," she alleges, claiming that he also intentionally misled the head of compliance services into thinking she wasn't interested into a promotion to director. Testimony from Morjaria's colleagues alleges that the manager would, "typically present at meetings, giving the impression that it was his work. He would also talk over people in those meetings." When she found out about the alleged deception, Morjaria says she felt betrayed and physically sickened: "I felt he saw me as competition and wanted to present a picture of me that was untrue."

Barclays declined to comment for this article. However, Barclays' defence documents say it investigated the allegations against the manager and found nothing in them. Although the manager took credit for Morjaria's work on one occasion, Barclays says he subsequently apologised and didn't do it again. And although his team was overly hierarchical, the bank says he didn't block Morjaria's promotion, didn't share her confidential data and didn't micromanage her. Nonetheless, Barclays does admit that a "number of complaints" had already been raised against the same manager (presumably by other members of the team).

Morjaria says she raised her complaints with the head of compliance services, who said that the manager simply needed mentoring and that if she wanted to work for a different team at Barclays' she'd need to raise a formal complaint.  

Worsening mental health 

It was that formal complaint process that seems to have triggered Morjaria's worsening mental health. While she was already suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, depression and anxiety (which Barclays says weren't genuine disabilities at the time), Morjaria says this was then compounded by PTSD relating to her childhood once the complaint started. "I went from being an outgoing, happy and positive person to being constantly tearful, hiding indoors, and feeling the world was a better place without me in it."

She took some time out of work and when she returned, she says she was still expected to work with the manager who'd victimised her, still expected to do the same amount of work despite being disabled and was expected to apply for alternative roles on the internal messaging board in the same way as other people, without help due to her poor mental health. 

Barclays denies all this. The bank says it helped move Morjaria to a new team, didn't make her work directly with the allegedly bad manager and - among other things - absolved her of the need to have direct reports, which it says "was unusual for Vice President level role," to cut her workload.

From top performer to resignation 

Ultimately, Morjaria resigned from Barclays in November 2021 and didn't work her notice period. She says her exit amounted to constructive dismissal and is alleging disability discrimination, harassment and victimization. Barclays denies all the charges.

Before the slide began, Morjaria was one of the most popular members of the team. Her 2018 performance review stated: "If we had more people like Khilna then the bank would be in a much better place."

Speaking to eFinancialCareers, Khilna's ex-colleagues say they still miss her. "She sent e-thank you notes recognising individual colleague efforts, bought coffees and biscuits for the entire team, was the first one to reach out if she found out someone was ill or upset," says one, adding that it's not the same now that she's gone.

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Photo by Joshua Lawrence on Unsplash

 

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Pi
    Pi
    14 June 2023

    "absolved her of the need to have direct report" screams constructive dismissal to me.

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