A fashion guru who taught Jimmy Choo how to design shoes was forced out of her job after her bullying boss got irritated about her working from home one day a week, an employment tribunal has found.
Chris Hill, who also tutored top designers Emma Hope and Patrick Cox, was driven to quit her role as a university lecturer after manager Vicki Dean ‘singled her out’ – reducing her to tears for the first time in her 40-year career.
Among her allegations of bullying was a claim that while on a trip to Paris with her students from the University of Northampton, Ms Dean did not respond or retweet almost all of her tweets about the visit, the tribunal was told.
The only reply was allegedly when Ms Hill posted a photo of students next to a giant shoe with the caption: ‘Why can’t we make shoes this big’. Ms Dean replied: ‘Why can’t you? As creatives you can do anything you want!’
Ms Dean also raised issues with her working from home on Fridays and would schedule meetings late and on that day – despite the senior lecturer working remotely for almost four years prior, the tribunal was told.
Chris Hill (left) was driven to quit her role as a lecturer after manager Vicki Dean (right) ‘singled her out’, the tribunal heard
Ms Hill is now in line for compensation after a panel found her manager was ‘needlessly asserting her authority’, creating a hostile environment and bullying her.
The footwear expert’s appointment as a lecturer in footwear and accessories in 2015 was celebrated by the university in a press release which said she brought a ‘wealth of experience, both academic and industrial’.
Fashion guru Ms Hill taught Jimmy Choo how to design shoes. He is pictured in 1997 in front of a photo of Princess Diana, who was his most famous customer at the time
Amongst her achievements in the industry, Ms Hill had been the first female lecturer at Cordwainers Technical College – now part of the London College of Fashion – where she taught Mr Choo.
She set up shoe design courses for the London College of Fashion and Central St Martins and also worked as head of footwear for luxury brand Hobbs before joining the University of Northampton.
The panel in Cambridge heard Ms Dean took over managing Ms Hill in early 2019.
Ms Hill started to feel undermined by her following ‘frankly aggressive’ emails she sent regarding a students’ trip to an Italian footwear design school called Modatech, the tribunal was told.
By the summer of that year she concluded Ms Dean was ‘singling her out’ and ‘effectively bullying her’, the hearing was told.
The panel heard Ms Hill was struggling with the fashion department meeting being moved to 4pm on a Thursday because it would usually last four hours which consequently hampered her ability to get home to Yorkshire.
The hearing was told Ms Dean began to schedule meetings on Fridays, when Ms Hill was working from home, and in June 2019, began to query why she did not work that day.
The panel heard: ‘[Ms Hill] also heard from colleagues that Ms Dean would create a ‘fuss’ about her absence on Fridays, albeit she did not raise any concerns directly with [Ms Hill] in this regard.
‘It added to her impression that Ms Dean was being needlessly difficult and critical.’
Footwear expert Ms Hill also tutored top designers Emma Hope (left) and Patrick Cox (right, with his friend Liz Hurley)
Ms Dean then made Ms Hill file a flexible working request in order to work from home to resolve the matter, despite it being the ‘established’ arrangement for almost four years, the tribunal heard.
‘[Ms Hill] had been persuaded to join the University on the clear understanding she could not commit to regular Friday attendance on campus.
‘The fashion department was a small department of seven staff and her working arrangements were widely known and openly discussed, including the fact Ms Hill lodged with a colleague Monday to Thursday,’ the panel heard.
Ms Hill was left feeling singled out as another member of staff worked from home.
That summer she told by Ms Dean her hours were being cut from 34 to seven on the footwear course, to make way for her teaching a course on ‘Contextual Studies’ she felt she wasn’t qualified for.
Ms Hill said that while on a trip to Paris with her students, Ms Dean did not respond or retweet almost all of her tweets about the visit, the tribunal was told. The only reply was allegedly when Ms Hill posted a photo of students next to a giant shoe with the caption: ‘Why can’t we make shoes this big’. Ms Dean replied: ‘Why can’t you? As creatives you can do anything you want!’
Towards the end of that year, Ms Hill took students to Paris as the Musée des Arts Décortifs Paris was holding an exhibition covering the history of shoes called ‘Marche et Démarche’.
When Ms Hill tweeted from the university’s account about the trip, she felt ignored as Ms Dean did not retweet her tweets, the tribunal was told.
In February 2020 she met with Ms Dean about Contextual Studies saying it was a ‘huge strain’ on her, the panel heard.
The tribunal was told: ‘When Ms Hill tried to explain that she was struggling, she experienced Ms Dean as increasingly cold, indeed seemingly angry…
‘When she began crying, Ms Dean’s response was not to soften her tone or show empathy or concern, instead… she said, ‘I knew we should have had the meeting in a private office’.’
The footwear expert’s appointment as a lecturer in footwear and accessories in 2015 was celebrated by the University of Northampton (pictured) in a press release which said she brought a ‘wealth of experience, both academic and industrial’
Following this meeting, Ms Hill immediately went off sick due to work related stress, the panel heard.
And after she unsuccessfully raised a grievance in order to obtain a new line manager and its appeal was dismissed, she resigned in October that year.
Upholding her unfair dismissal claim, Employment Judge Roger Tynan concluded: ‘I find that Ms Dean was fully aware of [Ms Hill’s] established and agreed working arrangements, but for some reason became irritated with them when she was not immediately available or contactable on one occasion.
‘The fact she reacted as she did in such circumstances is revealing in terms of Ms Dean’s attitude and approach towards Ms Hill, and I find it is consistent with bullying.
‘I have come to the conclusion that Ms Dean was needlessly asserting her authority on an issue where there was no reason for her to do so and without proper regard to the detrimental impact upon [Ms Hill].
‘It served to create a hostile environment and avoidable stress for [Ms Hill].’
A hearing to determine Ms Hill’s compensation will be held at a later date.