City finance boss in wheelchair takes on US giant over sack

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A City high-flyer confined to a wheelchair is suing US investment giant Fortress, claiming he was sacked after he was struck down by the debilitating illness motor neurone disease.

Michael Johnson, 56, was headhunted by Fortress in 2013 to set up a new lending business from its Mayfair offices and was paid $846,560 (£638,148) in salary and bonuses for his first year’s work.

The finance veteran of more than 30 years is a graduate of Oxford and Sandhurst and has worked for a host of big hitters including private-equity tycoon Guy Hands. 

But he developed a limp in early 2014 which deteriorated so quickly that he faced “extreme difficulty” walking.

He was forced to take taxis to work from April 2015 as well as absences while the condition, yet to be diagnosed formally, was treated. Johnson was dismissed last July days after a hospital stay. 

According to his witness statement, his manager Christopher Linkas at first claimed he had been affected by “downsizing” before adding: “it’s just not working out.” The father of three says no prior hints over his performance were given. He added: “Fortress and Mr Linkas’s position is that they believed I had nothing more than a “minor sports injury”. 

“I find this not only to be implausible but frankly insulting. I believe very strongly that I was dismissed because Mr Linkas saw me, my absences from the office and my deteriorating health as a liability.” 

The case is being heard over nine days at the London Central employment tribunal.

Skeleton arguments submitted by Fortress said Johnson’s managers “had no idea” over the seriousness of his conditions and “strenuously deny that the claimant’s disability had anything at all to do with the decision that he should be dismissed”. 

A Fortress spokesman said: “We don’t comment on the specifics of matters currently pending before the courts.”

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July 14, 2016 |
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