THE personal assistant of a captain of industry was forced out of her job after her boss told her: "I need to trade you in for a younger model".
A tribunal on Tuesday found that Dawn Bailey, 52, was unfairly dismissed from her £75,000-a-year post at Lockheed Martin, one of the world's largest defence firms, after developing a chronic illness and depression.
Miss Bailey was personal assistant to Stephen Ball, the 59-year-old UK chief executive of the company, who announced four days after her 50th birthday that it was "time for a younger team".
His comments came after she had informed him that she was suffering from sarcoidosis, a rare disease which left her short of breath and excessively tired.
Despite working for the company for 19 years she resigned last February because it became "impossible" for her to stay.
The Central London Employment Tribunal ruled that Miss Bailey, from Winfarthing in Norfolk, had been wrongfully dismissed from her job and been unfavourably treated because of her illness.
They said that the multi billion pound company should have appreciated that she needed more "pastoral and human support" after she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in November 2011.
The tribunal found that Mr Ball had made the comment about wanting "a younger model" but accepted it was made as a joke, and rejected claim for age discrimination.
However, the tribunal found she had been unfairly treated because of her illness, which was equivalent to a "disability".
The tribunal heard that Miss Bailey had an "unblemished" career at Lockheed Martin, but her relations with Mr Ball began to decline towards the end of 2010, when she was diagnosed with the chronic illness. She watched her father die of the same condition 25 years earlier.
Miss Bailey took several weeks off work the following year, and the tribunal found that in her absence her job was slimmed down and sidelined.
The 52-year-old accused Mr Ball of "intolerance of illness and seniority" after he made repeated reference to her age. In December 2011 she was suspended on "management directed leave" and escorted from the company's offices. She resigned three months later.
The tribunal found that Miss Bailey was "marginalised" on her return to work after she took time off with her illness and was met with "cold-shouldering" instead of sympathy and support.
The tribunal found that Mr Ball had subsequently made the comment about replacing Miss Bailey for a "younger model", although it said it had been intended as a "humorous and friendly" remark. "We were not persuaded that Mr Ball had generally had an antipathy towards the claimant because of her age," the tribunal found.
Paul McAleavey, Miss Bailey's solicitor, said she is considering appealing the ruling that she was not discriminated against because of her age.
He said she has since struggled to find work. "This was a woman in her fifties taking on a multi-national arms manufacturer and winning the majority of her claims.
"I think this case does have wider implications. Miss Bailey has failed to find new employment despite working very hard at it. She believes it is because of her age."
The tribunal will decide next month how much compensation Miss Bailey will be awarded.
Steven Swinford Telegraph.co.uk