A SENIOR manager with Allied Irish Banks (AIB) was suspended from his job "in retaliation" for bring a bullying claim against his superior, the High Court has heard.
Sean McHugh (54), who was employed as a senior manager at AIB's business centre Galway, has sued the bank for damages arising out of his suspension on full pay in September 2012. He claims his suspension is wrong, has affected his health and has damaged his reputation.
AIB denies Mr McHugh was wrongfully suspended, and says he has been the subject of an inquiry into allegations of misconduct.
Yesterday, the High Court heard suspension came about due to allegations of a conflict of interest, over the sanctioning of loans of around €40,000 made to individuals who were directors of Galway United Football club, the former League of Ireland team.
Mr McHugh, Ballard, Barna, Co Galway, who denies any conflict of interest, was the club's Licensing Officer.
He says he held that voluntary position with the full knowledge of AIB, and had no day to day involvement with the financial management of the club. He loans made for valid reasons and had the approval of his superior.
Yesterday, Ercus Stewart SC, appearing with John Curran BL for Mr McHugh, said his cleint rejected all the allegations that there was a conflict of interest. Mr McHugh had been with the bank since 1977, had an exemplary record and was promoted several times.
He said his client was subject to bullying and harassment from his superior, John Heapes, who was made AIB's Acting head of Galway Business in October 2010. Mr McHugh says he and other staff were isolated and intimidated by Mr Heapes.
Mr McHugh made a formal complaint in March 2010. Counsel said an investigation conducted by AIB upheld 11 of those complaints, made no decision in respect of four others and dismissed a further nine.
A report into the alleged bullying made several recommendations, which counsel said, were not implemented by the state owned bank.
Counsel said Mr McHugh's health suffered and he went out on sick leave. In May 2012 AIB introduced a new business structure, which resulted in Mr McHugh's demotion.
The issue of an alleged conflict of interest was first raised in January 2011 by Mr Heapes.
Mr McHugh, after answering all questions asked of him, thought the matter had been dealt with. Then, much to his client's, surprise he was suspended in September 2012, and was given just 10 minutes to clear his desk.
Counsel said he was not given the reasons for his suspension until last May. Counsel said his client was never told the inquiry into the loans to the football club directors was being escalated into an investigation.
AIB had claimed Mr McHugh was told an investigation was to take place concerning the alleged conflict of interest at a meeting in February 2011. It was his client's case that no such meeting took place, counsel added.
Counsel said AIB's accusations against Mr McHugh were "in retaliation" for the bullying claim made against his superior.
In its defence AIB says the decision to suspend Mr McHugh is fully lawful AIB represented by Brian O'Moore SC said his client wanted to point out that the bank had fully implemented the findings of the the report made following the investigation into Mr McHugh's bullying complaints.
The case, before Mr Justice Paul Gilligan, continues.