A former director of Mott MacDonald is taking the company to court for unfair dismissal and disability, age and sex discrimination.

Michelle Swales worked for Franklin + Andrews for 15 years before it was taken over by Mott MacDonald in 2002. She then became communications director at Mott MacDonald’s management, economics and construction unit, a role she held until she left last year.

She claims she was unfairly made redundant in February last year while on sick leave after a back operation. She said: “It was a total shock for me; it came completely out of the blue.”

Swales had been experiencing back problems for several years until she needed an operation to replace vertebrae in July 2006. She said: “It was a major operation with huge risks.”

She said the company was supportive at first and allowed her a three-month recovery period. However, at a meeting with Mott MacDonald in October, Swales says she was told her job had been given to somebody else. The company then said it was not able to offer her any alternatives, and she was made redundant on 28 February 2007.

“The pay-off package was dreadful. I got very little extra payment,” Swales said. “So I appealed, which the company refused. I then went to a solicitor.

The pay-off was dreadful. I got very little extra payment. So I appealed, which was refused. I then went to a solicitor

Michelle Swales

“The ironic thing is that, at the time, I was working on a five-year plan to improve Mott MacDonald’s staff retention rate.”

Swales said there had been no contact between the two parties since the court action was filed, other than through their solicitors.

The tribunal is set to take place on 22 and 23 January. The case for unfair dismissal was given the go-ahead after a preliminary hearing on 13 December at Leeds magistrates’ court.

Mott MacDonald is among the UK’s top 20 employers, according to the Times.