Veteran Prison Officer in Disability Discrimination Victory

A veteran prison officer who was sacked after the autoimmune disorder from which she suffered prevented her from working full time was discriminated against due to her disability and dismissed unfairly, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has ruled.

The woman had been employed by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for 14 years and, despite her health problems, had managed to work 35 hours a week. However, her condition had deteriorated following a bout of shingles and she had not fully recovered before she was dismissed.

She had not yet been able to return to her normal hours and the prison governor decided that she was unlikely to be medically capable of again taking up her full duties. He was also not prepared to make adjustments by reducing her working hours and workload.

An Employment Tribunal (ET) found that she had been unfairly dismissed, that she had suffered direct and indirect discrimination on grounds of her disability and that reasonable adjustments could and should have been made to enable her to carry on working.

In dismissing the MoJ’s challenge to those findings, the EAT rejected arguments that the real reason for her dismissal was her inability to do her job. The ET’s reasoning could not be faulted and the MoJ had failed to establish that there was a potentially fair reason for her dismissal.

The woman had been awarded £67,120 in compensation by the ET. However, the EAT ruled that the ET’s findings in respect of past and future losses and pension losses were unsustainable. Those aspects of the case were sent back to the ET for reconsideration.

Rude Salesman’s Contract Justifiably Terminated

Good customer services are essential for any business dealing with the public and lapses can be stamped on by regulators who have power to impose heavy fines on defaulters. The point was well made by a High Court ruling that a foul-mouthed mobile phone salesman was justifiably given his marching orders.

The salesman was under contract to a telecommunications distribution company which worked for mobile network providers. He was engaged in cold calling potential business customers. His contract was terminated after a provider received complaints and issued a ‘do not deal’ notice.

The salesman admitted two isolated breaches of contract but denied that they were so serious as to justify termination. However, the Court found that the do not deal notice was based on good and solid evidence of his very poor customer relations performance over an extended period. His appalling rudeness to one customer in particular amounted to a repudiatory breach of contract.

Care Homes Provider Triumphs in Migrant Workers Dispute

Businesses which rely on migrant workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) are increasingly feeling the heavy hand of regulators. However, in one case, a care homes provider won a High Court ruling that it was treated unlawfully by the Home Office.

The provider, part of a group which ran 80 care homes and employed about 2,500 staff, argued that there were insufficient numbers of skilled workers, particularly nurses, within the EEA-resident workforce to meet its needs. However, it was stripped of its licence to sponsor entry into Britain of non-European skilled workers following a Home Office inquiry.

In quashing that decision, the Court found that the Home Office had misapplied its own policy in treating the provider as if it were an employment agency. It had also erred in finding that the provider had knowingly made false representations and had failed to make sufficient efforts to recruit the staff it needed from within the EEA. The revocation of the provider’s licence was therefore irrational.

False Police Disclosure Violated Teacher’s Human Rights

A science teacher whose career was blighted by disclosure of false and damaging information to his employers by the police has won an important High Court ruling that what happened amounted to a violation of his human rights.

The teacher had been dismissed from his post at a primary school after governors found, amongst other things, that he had made inappropriate comments to female pupils, which they had taken to be of a sexual nature. He found another job at a girls’ school after both the Independent Safeguarding Authority and the General Teaching Council decided to take no action against him.

However, after the local police force’s child abuse investigation unit found out what had happened, an officer informed a local authority official – wrongly – that he had been sacked for inappropriately touching pupils. When that information found its way to the girls’ school he was suspended and eventually resigned under a cloud whilst disciplinary proceedings against him were pending.

The High Court accepted that the police officer concerned genuinely believed that the information that he passed on was correct. However, necessary inquiries had not been carried out and the information was ‘inaccurate in the sense of being untrue’. The fact that the disclosure was not made directly to the girls’ school did not mean that the force could abdicate all responsibility for the consequences.

The disclosure had breached the teacher’s right to respect for his privacy, enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court’s ruling opened the way for the teacher to claim damages from the relevant police force to reflect the impact of the disclosure on his reputation and career.

Nursery School Fends Off Muslim Discrimination Claim

Every careful employer should be aware that the duty not to discriminate arises at the very moment when a prospective employee applies for a job. In one case, a nursery school was accused of prejudice by a Muslim interviewee who claimed that she had been refused permission to wear her flowing jilbab to work.

The woman said that, during her interview, she had been told that her jilbab was too long and that she would need to wear a shorter version. Asserting that she had been less favourably treated due to her faith, she took her case to an Employment Tribunal (ET), claiming indirect religious discrimination.

The ET rejected her account of what was said during the interview and ruled that it would in any event have dismissed her complaint. In rejecting her challenge to that decision, the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that there was nothing wrong or unreasonable about the nursery’s dress policy.

Its manager had explained that there were health and safety reasons why the woman could not wear a full-length jilbab. There were concerns that it would pose a tripping hazard and the same ‘across the board’ policy would have been applied to anyone else wearing very long clothing. The nursery employed four Muslim staff at the time and at no stage during the interview had the woman indicated that she was offended by the suggestion that she wear a shorter jilbab.

The Law Moves Fast to Protect Software Company’s Rights

The wheels of justice have a reputation for moving slowly, but a case in which three directors quit a technology company, taking a cohort of its strategic staff with them before setting up in rivalry, showed just how quickly the courts can move.

The High Court found that it was arguable that the directors had acted in breach of the fiduciary duties that they owed to the software development company. The company’s claim that its intellectual property rights had been infringed by misuse of its software in the directors’ new venture was also arguable.

A number of employees, who left the company and joined the new business, had also arguably breached their obligations of fidelity and restrictive covenants in their employment contracts which prevented them from soliciting the company’s customers or working for competing businesses for specified periods.

The Court issued an emergency injunction to protect the company’s position pending a full trial of the action, in which a permanent injunction and substantial damages would be sought. The interim order placed tight restrictions on the new venture’s activities but was carefully tailored to ensure that it was not forced out of business.