A CFO of a UK-based Korean company lost her job because she refused to bow to her boss, an employment tribunal said today.
Misook McDonald, 43, was reportedly demoted after her “furious” manager confronted her that she had not bowed to him at the start and end of each working day.
Ms McDonald also claims that she was ordered to brew coffee, but when she challenged Dongbu Daewoo Electronics manager Ho Seung Yoo, he retorted, “Isn’t that what women workers should To do?”
Allegations of the Korean custom of bowing to senior executives have come to light in an employment tribunal, where Ms McDonald is suing the UK headquarters of the world’s largest electronics company for discrimination based on sex, age and location. race.
The court in Reading, Berkshire, heard that the British mother said she had to spend hours of her day in the company director’s office “with the door tightly closed” before her role was suddenly exchange.
Ms McDonald, who has an English father and a South Korean mother, claimed she was stripped of her leadership role because she was not a white Briton.
The panel learned that she was instead forced to work in human resources and administration at Dongbu Daewoo Electronics UK due to discrimination against her gender, age and race.
The electronics sales company, based in Wharfedale Road, Winnersh Triangle, Berkshire, and its chief financial officer, Mr Yoo, deny the allegations.
Ms McDonald, of Sonning-on-Thames, Berkshire, told the court: ‘I asked Mr Yoo why I was being asked to do secretarial duties such as making coffee. He said’ is- what not what female employees should be doing? “”
She returned to work as a part-time financial assistant after a career break to have her two children in April 2014.
The problems started after she was promoted to CFO and became head of human resources, reporting directly to Mr. Yoo and started working full time in February 2015.
His annual salary has increased from around £ 10,000 to £ 35,000 per year.
She told the panel that she had no HR experience and added, “He wanted me to be his eyes and ears, which took a long time.
“I was constantly called into his office and spent several hours of my day in his room with the door securely closed.”
Ms McDonald, who lived in South Korea and attended an American school for expatriate children until the age of 12, was the only bilingual Korean and English speaker at the company until the Korean June Turner joined her team in February 2015.
Her work was praised and she was one of three employees who received a bonus of £ 2,000 when other colleagues faced a pay freeze, the court said.
“With the additional person in the accounting department who is a ‘pure Korean ethnicity’, it became clear to me that Mr. Yoo now wanted me to focus more on the administration of the business and less on the accounts.” Ms McDonald told the court.
“I know he was happy to use me when I was the only bilingual person, but when a better speaking Korean employee showed up, I was not his preferred choice.
“I am also not considered ‘pure’ because my father is English.”
She claimed that she was forced into “secretarial duties” when Mr. Yoo told her to show “respect” to Ms. Turner because she was older than her and to have pity on her. ‘her because she had no children.
The court heard that her post of deputy manager was given to Ms Turner and that she was appointed director of the office administrator / PA before the CEO of her company visited her workplace from Korea on the 8th. June 2015.
“I said that I felt discriminated against just because I am considered a Korean woman and younger, therefore of lower status so that I could be looked down upon and put aside,” she said.
“I know that if I had been an older British Caucasian male, Mr. Yoo would have seen me very differently and wouldn’t have dared to push me around so easily.”
She met Mr. Yoo, Ms. Turner and the former CFO nine days later.
“They all pressured me to accept the split organizational chart that Mr. Yoo wanted and I felt uncomfortable with the pressure I was under,” she said.
The claimant testified that she suffered gender-based abuse from Mr. Yoo as a result of the grievance letter her lawyer sent her.
“As usual, I went to Mr. Yoo’s office to say goodnight to him. When I opened the door to bow, he was in absolute fury. He was enraged with anger,” a- she declared.
Ms. McDonald was arrested due to stress and told company general manager Chong Park that she was being harassed by Mr. Yoo in August.
“He said Mr. Yoo was very angry that I broke protocol by not greeting him every morning when I get to work and I don’t greet him when I leave the office in the evening,” a- she declared.
“I replied that it was not out of disrespect that I had stopped greeting him, it was because I wanted to avoid him in case he called me in his office while I went to him. say hello or goodbye. I didn’t want any opportunity for the harassment to occur, so I avoided Mr. Yoo. “
A mediator responsible for grievance hearings regarding her claim found “no reason to prioritize one account over another” and did not uphold Ms McDonald’s complaint, the court was told.
Mr Yoo told the panel: “Ms McDonald never complained about being called into my office while she was at work until she filed her complaint.
“Mrs McDonald’s suggestion to ask me to bow to me is just not true,” he said.
“Bowing is considered a custom in Korea, but no one in our UK office is required to bow. Some of our Korean employees choose to bow, but like I say no one has to bow, it’s completely voluntary. “
Ms McDonald, who was representing herself, asked Mr Yoo in cross-examination when she complained that she had to make him coffee during a meeting she had with him in his office before the visit of the CEO.
She said, “That day I asked you why you asked me to do secretarial duties such as serving coffees for you and your guests and your response was,” Isn’t that what women workers should do?
Mr. Yoo was asked, “Is it because, in your opinion, she was a woman and a young and Korean in your eyes?” “
Mr. Yoo, through a translator, said: “At first Ms. McDonald joined our company, every morning she brought me a cup of coffee or tea, every morning.
“Yes, I said it. However, even though I asked him to brew coffee for my guests, I was so sorry I asked him to do so at the time. “
Ms McDonald asked Mr Yoo, who had been seconded from the company’s Korean headquarters in the UK for a four-year term, whether he expected his employees to follow “Korean protocol”.
Mr. Yoo said, “No. Never, not at all. From what I understand, Ms. McDonald lived in Korea for a while. If Ms. McDonald voluntarily decides to follow a Korean cultural protocol, it does not. wouldn’t bother me. “
The provider asked, “What about the curtsy at the start and end of the day? “
Mr Yoo, who had previously worked in the company’s Northern Ireland office, said: ‘Let me explain, while I was working for the UK office I never asked any of my employees greet me, never.
“It was quite strange because from the start Mrs. Mcdonald, when she arrived, she greeted me.
“It was quite strange for me too, she made coffees and teas and she brought me it was strange, of course I appreciate it.
“However, I just accepted it.”
General Manager Chong Sik Park revealed that the changes Mr. Yoo made in the workplace caused him to ask, “Is he normal or is he mental?”
The manager shared his frustration with Mr Yoo’s behavior after it was revealed that Ms McDonald and her manager had not agreed on his role amicably.
Mr Park, who denied that his two dozen employees were required to bow to their manager, told the court Ms McDonald’s role had not changed despite her name appearing under the human resources department in an organizational chart of the company that was shown to its CEO.
The court heard that Mr Yoo had been told he needed to downsize and handed his job in the accounting department to Ms Turner during her presentation.
Mr. Park said, “Mr. Yoo didn’t want to fire anyone or lose anyone’s job.
“Mr. Yoo designed the presentation which included the job board to show the CEO and HQ that we had responded to their request. Nobody’s role has actually changed at this point. “
The court heard that her title in the table had “with accounts” written next to it in Korean.
The Managing Director said: “Mrs McDonald told me that things had been sorted out and while she was sorry to let the accounts work behind her, she was hoping we could all move forward together and in fact said that she and Mr. Yoo had made peace. “
Referring to when Ms McDonald raised concerns about her manager announcing coworker changes, Mr Park added: “Having said that, in this situation, I thought the timing was a bit short given the recent issues that have arisen between Ms. McDonald and Mr. Yoo.
“When I said ‘is he normal or is he mental’ I was upset and frustrated with Mr. Yoo.”