A financial manager at an electronics firm’s UK office says she lost her job because she refused to bow to her boss.
Misook McDonald, 43, used to work at Dongbu Daewoo Electronics, a Korean company with a brand in Reading.
But she said she was shunted towards work that was more secretarial work due to discrimination.
The director of the company, Ho Seung Yoo, allegedly demoted her after asking her why she didn’t bow to him at the start and end of each working day.
She claims she was also ordered to make coffee and when she questioned if that was appropriate, he retorted: ‘Isn’t that what female workers should do?’
Misook speaks Korean as she went to an American school in South Korea until she was 12 years old, and has a Korean mother.
She was the only bilingual member of staff at Dongbu for a while, but she claims her work became less valued when another Korean speaker, June Turner, started working there.
Mr Yoo told her to show Mrs Turner ‘respect’ because she was older than her and take pity on her because she had no children, she claimed.
‘I know he was glad to utilise me when I was the only bi-lingual person but when a better speaking Korean employee came along, I was not his preferred choice.
‘I am also not considered ‘pure’ as my father is English.’
Mr Yoo denies the claims and says there was no obligation for employees to bow.
The employment tribunal, in Reading, heard that Misook had to spend hours of her day in the company director’s office ‘with the door firmly shut’ before her job role was suddenly changed.
Misook, who returned to work as a part-time Assistant Finance Manager in April 2014 after a career break to have her two children, said problems began after she was promoted to Finance Manager and became head of Human Resources, reporting directly to Mr Yoo and began working full-time by February 2015.
Her annual pay rose about £10,000 to £35,000.
She told the panel that she had no experience in HR and added: ‘He wanted me to be his eyes and ears, which took up a lot of time. I was constantly called into his office and spent several hours of my day in his room with the door firmly shut.’
The tribunal was told her job role of Assistant Manager was given to Mrs Turner and she was made manager to the Office Administrator/PA.
‘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.’
Misook claims she was told by the company’s Managing Director that ‘Mr Yoo was very angry that I had broken protocol by not bowing to him every morning when I get to work and I do not bow to him when I leave the office at night.’
‘I replied that 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 whilst I went to say hello or goodbye. I didn’t want any opportunity for harassment to occur so I was avoiding Mr Yoo.’
A mediator for grievance hearings over her claim found ‘no reason to favour one account over another’ and did not uphold Mrs McDonald’s complaint, the tribunal was told.
Mr Yoo told the panel: ‘Mrs McDonald never complained about being called into my office whilst at work until she lodged her grievance.
‘The suggestion raised by Mrs McDonald as to me demanding that she bow to me is simply not true,” he claimed.
‘Bowing is considered a custom in Korea but nobody in our UK office is required to bow. Some of our Korean staff choose to bow but as I say nobody must bow, it is entirely voluntary.’
Misook, who was representing herself, asked Mr Yoo about when she complained about having to make coffees for him in a meeting and was allegedly told that was what female workers should do.
Mr Yoo, through a translator, said: ‘When initially Mrs McDonald joined our company, every morning she brought me a cup of coffee or tea, every single morning.
‘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, presided over by Judge Andrew Gumbiti-Zimuto, continues.