• International Workplace
  • 13 December 2016

HR manager demoted after failing to bow to her boss, Tribunal hears

A former HR manager at a UK branch of a Korean firm is suing the company for sex discrimination, age discrimination and racial discrimination after allegedly losing her job because she refused to bow to her boss.

Misook McDonald claims she was demoted to secretarial duties at Dongbu Daewoo Electronics in Berkshire after the “furious” Chief Financial Director, Ho Seung Yoo, confronted her over her failure to bow to him at the beginning and end of each working day.

McDonald also told the Tribunal that Yoo ordered her to “do secretarial duties such as making coffees.” When she challenged him, he reportedly said, “Isn't that what female employees should do?”

McDonald, who has an English father and South Korean mother, had returned to work as a part-time assistant finance manager in April 2014 after a career break to have two children. She was promoted to a full-time role as finance manager and head of human resources in February last year, despite having no experience in HR.

She claimed that she had been valued in the company as a bilingual Korean and English speaker, until Jane Turner – described by McDonald in her evidence as ‘a pure ethnic native Korean’ – joined the team. McDonald said Yoo told her to show Turner “respect” because she was older, and forced McDonald to take on “secretarial duties.”

"I know [Mr Yoo] was glad to utilise me when I was the only bilingual person but when a better speaking Korean employee came along, I was not his preferred choice,”

McDonald told the tribunal. She claims she was made manager to the office administrator/PA before her company's CEO visited her workplace from Korea in June 2015.

“I expressed that I felt discriminated just because I am viewed as a Korean female and younger, hence lower in status that I can be looked down upon and pushed aside,” she said. "I know if I had been an older British white caucasian male, Mr Yoo would have seen me very differently and would not dare to push me around so easily."

McDonald was signed off work with stress in August, after telling the company’s managing director, Choong Sik Park, that she was being harassed by Yoo, who allegedly said he was angry she had “broken protocol” by not bowing to him at the beginning and end of the working day.

McDonald told the tribunal that she explained to Yoo “it wasn’t out of disrespect that I stopped bowing to him, it was because I wanted to avoid him in case he called me into his office… I didn’t want any opportunity for harassment to occur so I was avoiding [him].”

Yoo and Dongbu Daewoo Electronics deny the claims brought against them. However, when asked about the coffee-making incident by the tribunal, Yoo said:

"Yes I did say it. However, although I asked her to make some coffee for my guests, I was really sorry for asking that of her at the time."

The Tribunal continues.


This article is authored by the CIPD and reproduced with kind permission.