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Is it a whistleblowing dismissal if the person who made the decision to dismiss was ignorant of the protected disclosure, and was deliberately misled by the employee’s line manager to believe the reason was poor performance?

No, held the Court of Appeal in its judgment in Royal Mail Ltd v Jhuti. Link to Judgement

Ms Jhuti was an employee at Royal Mail who made a protected disclosure to her line manager. During a dismissal process, the line manager, motivated by the protected disclosure, deliberately misled the investigating manager so that she dismissed Ms Jhuti for poor performance. The EAT held that both the reason and motivation of the decision maker and the line manager had to be taken into account, and could be attributed to their employer.

In reversing the EAT’s decision, the Court of Appeal held that in determining the “reason for the dismissal”, the tribunal is only obliged to consider the mental processes of the person(s) authorised to, and who did, take the decision to dismiss (being the mind of the employer). Underhill LJ raised some doubt about whether, in cases of manipulation, the position would be different if the CEO deliberately manipulated the dismissal decision.

Underhill LJ stressed that unfair dismissal cases require unfairness by the employer. Unfair conduct by individual managers or colleagues is immaterial unless it can properly be attributed to the employer.

In principle, Ms Jhuti is not precluded from recovering compensation for dismissal consequent on unlawful detriment but this is for the employment tribunal to decide.

 

Does an embassy employee have diplomatic immunity in respect of employment claims from his domestic staff?

No, held the Supreme Court in Reyes v Al-Malki. Link to Judgement

Mr and Mrs Al-Malki employed Ms Reyes as a member of domestic staff at their London residence. Mr Al-Malki was a diplomat of the Saudi Arabian embassy in London.

In circumstances very similar to yesterday’s case of Benkharbouche v Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs & Anor, Ms Reyes began employment tribunal proceedings and alleged that Mr and Mrs Al-Malki mistreated her during her employment and that she is a victim of human trafficking. Those allegations have yet to be determined and the issue for the Supreme Court was whether the tribunal has jurisdiction to hear the claims within the exception to the rule of diplomatic immunity, contained in Article 31(1)(c) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961.

The Supreme Court unanimously held that Mr Al-Malki would not be entitled to diplomatic immunity in relation to a claim of human trafficking brought by Ms Reyes because her employment (to carry out domestic tasks) and alleged treatment would not constitute acts performed in the course of the diplomat’s official functions.

In Ypourgos Esoterikon and anor v Kalliri, the European Court of Justice has held that imposing a minimum height requirement of 1.7m for enrolment in Greek police schools constituted indirect sex discrimination that was not objectively justified. Far more women than men were disadvantaged by the minimum height requirement, and while the requirement sought to pursue the legitimate aim of enabling the effective accomplishment of the various functions of the police force, certain police functions, such as providing assistance to citizens or traffic control, did not require the use of particular physical aptitude. Furthermore, it is not necessarily the case that a person’s height corresponds to his or her physical aptitude to carry out certain functions. The aim that the requirement sought to pursue could be achieved by measures that were less disadvantageous to women – for example, by carrying out pre-selection aptitude tests.

In Greece, a national law required candidates who wished to enter police school to train as officers to be a minimum height. The law required any candidate (male or female) to be at least 1.7m tall, without shoes. When K’s application to join the police school was rejected on the basis that she did not meet the minimum height requirement (since she was only 1.68m tall), she presented a complaint before the Greek Court of Appeal which held that the requirement was contrary to the constitutional principle of equality of the sexes. The Greek Interior Minister and the Minister for Education and Religious Affairs appealed against that decision. The Council of State decided to stay the proceedings to ask the ECJ whether the minimum height requirement was compatible with the EU Equal Treatment Directive (No.76/207), which prohibits, among other things, unjustified indirect sex discrimination.

The ECJ noted that the referring court itself had found that a much larger number of women than men are of a height of less than 1.7m, such that, by the application of that law, women were very clearly at a disadvantage compared with men in relation to the admission requirements to the Greek police school. It therefore followed that the law was indirectly discriminatory. As to the question of whether the requirement could be objectively justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, the Greek Government had submitted that the aim of the law was to enable the effective accomplishment of the task of the Greek police, and that possession of certain particular physical attributes, such as being of a minimum height, was a necessary and appropriate means of achieving that aim. The ECJ noted that previous case law had established that ensuring the operational capacity and proper functioning of the police service constituted a legitimate aim. However, the ECJ held that, while it was true that the exercise of police functions involving the protection of persons and goods, the arrest and custody of offenders and the conducting of crime prevention patrols might require the use of physical force that would require a particular physical aptitude, certain police functions, such as providing assistance to citizens or traffic control, did not require the use of significant physical force. Furthermore, even if all the functions carried out by the Greek police required a particular physical aptitude, such aptitude was not necessarily connected with being over a certain height. Equally, it was not necessarily the case that shorter people naturally lacked that aptitude. It was also worth noting that, until 2003, Greek law required different minimum heights for men and for women to enter the police: for women the minimum height was fixed at 1.65m, compared with 1.7m for men. It was also relevant that there remained different minimum height requirements for men and women to enter the Greek armed forces, port police and coast guard, where the minimum requirement for women was only 1.6m.
The ECJ concluded that the pursued aim could be achieved by measures that were less disadvantageous to women, such as a pre-selection of candidates based on specific tests allowing their physical ability to be assessed. It followed that, subject to the national court’s assessment of objective justification, the minimum height requirement breached the Equal Treatment Directive.

Link to case

Yes. In HM Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills v Interim Executive Board of Al-Hijrah School, the Court of Appeal has overturned the High Court’s decision that a school’s complete gender segregation of pupils aged 9–16 was not sex discriminatory. In the Court’s view, the High Court had erred by comparing the treatment of boys and girls as two groups and concluding that, since they were both being denied the opportunity to interact/socialise/learn with or from the opposite sex, there was no discrimination. The correct approach under S.13 of the Equality Act 2010 was to look at the treatment from the perspective of an individual girl or boy at the school. The child was being denied the opportunity to mix with the opposite sex, which was a detriment imposed because of the protected characteristic of sex. Thus, the treatment was direct discrimination.
AHS is a voluntary aided faith school for boys and girls aged between four and 16. It has an Islamic ethos and for religious reasons separates boys and girls from Year 5 onwards (when they are aged nine and above) for lessons, trips, breaks and lunchtimes. In June 2016 Ofsted inspected the school, which was later sent a draft of Ofsted’s report rating the school as inadequate and citing concerns about its segregation policy. Ofsted took the view that the policy limited pupils’ social development, and its report pointed out that the school had not considered ‘how to mitigate the potentially negative impact of this practice on pupils’ chances to develop into socially confident individuals with peers from the opposite gender’. Ofsted believed that this gender segregation was unlawful under the EqA. However, there was no suggestion in the report that either boys or girls received a different or qualitatively poorer level of education than the other. The school brought a judicial review challenge to the proposed report. As the most senior official at Ofsted, the Chief Inspector was named as respondent.
Mr Justice Jay upheld the challenge in the High Court (Brief 1062), ruling that Ofsted had been wrong to conclude that there was a breach of the EqA. Given that there was no distinction between the opportunities afforded to girls and boys to interact with each other, it could not be said that one sex was treated less favourably than the other. Furthermore, Jay J held that argument that segregation in a faith school generates a feeling of inferiority as to the status of females in the community is too broad and sweeping an assertion to make in a multi-cultural society, where segregation is not enforced but chosen by parents. Ofsted appealed to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal agreed with Ofsted’s submission that Jay J had erred by regarding the arrangements at the school as non-discriminatory on the basis that they were ‘separate but equal’. Since the definition of direct discrimination in S.13 EqA refers to a person, it was necessary to view less favourable treatment under that provision from the perspective of an individual pupil, rather than his or her sex as a group. From that perspective, a girl pupil who wished to mix or socialise with a boy pupil was precluded from doing so because of her sex, a protected characteristic; whereas, if she did not have that characteristic, and was a boy pupil, she would have been able to mix or socialise with all the other boys (this was also the case where the genders were reversed). This treatment was clearly less favourable, and the denial of opportunity to mix with the opposite sex was detrimental, as evidenced by the Ofsted report’s finding that segregation had an adverse impact on the quality and effectiveness of the education given by the School to girl pupils and boy pupils respectively. Accordingly, the treatment amounted to direct discrimination contrary to Ss.13 and 85 EqA.
Although it was not necessary, given the above findings on less favourable treatment, the majority of the Court (the Master of the Rolls and Lord Justice Beatson) set out obiter comments refuting Ofsted’s proposition that segregation at the School caused greater psychological harm to girl pupils because the female sex has the minority share of power in society and that power imbalance will be reinforced in adulthood by the loss of opportunity for girls and boys to socialise with each other and to regard each other as equals. The majority considered that, as the Ofsted report itself made no such assertion and there was no evidence from expert educationalists to support the proposition, Jay J had been correct to reject Ofsted’s reliance on this ground. Lady Justice Gloster, by contrast, would also have upheld this ground of appeal. In her view, on the specific evidence before the Court, Ofsted had demonstrated that the sex segregation at the school involved greater practical detriment for girls than boys.

Link to transcript: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2017/1426.html

In De Mota v ADR Network and anor, the EAT has held that an employment judge erred in rejecting a claim on the basis that the early conciliation (EC) certificate named two respondents. Although rule 4 of the Schedule to the Employment Tribunals (Early Conciliation: Exemption and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2014 SI 2014/254 (the EC Rules) requires a prospective claimant to present a separate EC form in respect of each respondent when contacting Acas, it does not apply to the EC certificate itself, and there is no rule that renders unlawful a certificate that names two respondents.

DM worked as an HGV driver for the Co-Operative Group Ltd (CG Ltd) between 2012 and 2015. He sought to claim unfair dismissal, breach of contract, unlawful deduction from wages, holiday pay and notice pay. His case was that he was employed by, or contracted to work for, ADR, and that ADR assigned him to work for CG Ltd. ADR and CG Ltd disputed this, saying that DM had set up his own company providing his services to ADR, and that ADR provided his services to CG Ltd. DM completed an EC form online. The information provided to online applicants states, in accordance with rule 4 of the EC Rules, that in order to make a claim against more than one respondent the claimant must complete a separate form for each one. However, DM completed just one form, putting ‘ADR Network and The Co-operative Group’ in the box for the respondent’s name. He gave an address which is both the depot of CG Ltd and a business address of ADR. Despite the error, Acas issued an EC certificate, which identified the ‘prospective respondent’ as ‘ADR Network and The Co-operative Group’. DM went on to present his claim to an employment tribunal, naming ADR and CG Ltd as two separate respondents.

An employment judge rejected DM’s claim for non-compliance with the EC Rules. He ruled that the form that DM had submitted to Acas named neither of the respondents but rather a non-existent entity whose name was the conjunction of the names of both respondents. He noted that rule 4 renders it necessary to submit separate forms in respect of separate respondents. He therefore concluded that DM had failed to provide the required information in the prescribed manner and so the tribunal was deprived of jurisdiction by S.18A of the Employment Tribunals Act 1996. DM appealed to the EAT.

The EAT allowed the appeal. His Honour Judge David Richardson, sitting along, noted that, following the EAT’s approach in cases such as Mist v Derby Community Services NHS Trust (Brief 1040) and Drake International Systems Ltd and ors v Blue Arrow Ltd (Brief 1040), it is clear that the purpose of the EC provisions is limited – it is not to require or enforce conciliation, it is simply to build in a structured opportunity for conciliation to be considered. Furthermore, it is no part of the provisions to encourage satellite litigation. HHJ David Richardson pointed out that S.18A ETA, which sets out how the tribunal’s jurisdiction depends on compliance with the EC provisions, focuses upon the existence of an EC certificate. In his view, Parliament did not intend that the process leading up to the certificate should be subject to criticism and examination by the parties or the employment tribunal. For one thing, as was pointed out in Mist, if the prospective claimant does not provide the prescribed information in the prescribed manner, the EC Rules make it plain that Acas is not bound to reject the claim. For another, if it were open to the parties or the tribunal to go behind the certificate, it would also be open to them to challenge Acas’s conduct of the conciliation procedure. Thus, the employment judge erred in law in going behind the certificate and finding that DM failed to provide the prescribed information in the prescribed form to Acas.

HHJ David Richardson went on to hold that the employment judge was wrong to rule, in effect, that Acas had issued an unlawful certificate. Rule 4, which requires individual respondents to be named on separate forms, does not apply to the EC certificate, and there is no similar mandatory requirement elsewhere in the EC Rules. Nor should such a requirement be implied, especially where the effect would be to bar access to the legal system for a litigant based on a technicality. It may be that the issuing of a single certificate was an error on Acas’s part but that is not the same as saying that it was an unlawful certificate. The appeal would therefore be allowed and the claim remitted to the employment tribunal for proceedings to continue.

Link to transcript: http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2017/0305_16_1309.html

Remember the 2016 ECHR decision in Barbulescu v Romania, which said that a Romanian employer acted lawfully when it monitored an employee’s Yahoo messenger account?

Something unusual has happened.  There has been an appeal from the Chamber of the ECHR (7 judges, who take most of the decisions) to the Grand Chamber (17 judges, the final tier and unusual).  And the Grand Chamber has come down more in favour of the right to privacy and reversed the decision.

It’s a complicated and nuanced judgment.  But the main point is that workers have a right to respect for privacy in the workplace, and if an employer is going to monitor their emails and messages, the employer should (exceptional reasons aside) tell the worker that their communications might be monitored.  Here, although the employee knew it was forbidden to use work computers for personal purposes, he had not been told that the employer was monitoring his communications.

Accordingly the ECHR held that the Romanian court’s decision was wrong, and that Romanian law failed to strike a fair balance between the employer’s and the employee’s interests.  Accordingly there was a breach of Article 8 and the employee was entitled to compensation.

Did suspension of a teacher amount to a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence?

Yes, held the High Court in Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth. In this case, a teacher was suspended because of the force she used with two children. She had not been asked for her response to the allegations and there was no evidence of consideration given to any alternative to suspension. She resigned the same day.

Foskett J held, following Mezey and Gogay, that suspension was not a neutral act, at least in the context of a qualified professional in a vocation, such as a teacher. Taking into account the statutory guidance for local authorities, it was noted that a knee-jerk reaction must be avoided and that suspension must not be the default position. The reason given for the suspension was not the protection of children, but to “allow the investigation to be conducted fairly”.

The Court concluded that suspension was adopted as the default position, was a knee-jerk reaction, and amounted to a repudiatory breach of contract. This was not undermined by a resignation in friendly terms.

NB the court did not have before it the question of whether this case was an attempt to circumvent the statutory qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims and fell within the ‘Johnson exclusion zone’.

Link to the case

In Efobi v Royal Mail Group Ltd, the EAT has held that S.136 of the Equality Act 2010 – which deals with the burden of proof in discrimination cases – does not impose any initial burden on claimants to establish a ‘prima facie’ case of discrimination. Rather, it requires the tribunal to consider all the evidence, from all sources, at the end of the hearing, so as to decide whether or not there are facts from which it can infer discrimination. If there are such facts, and no explanation from A, the tribunal must uphold the complaint. It may therefore be misleading to refer to a ‘shifting’ of the burden of proof, as this implies, contrary to the language of S.136, that Parliament has required a claimant to prove something.

E worked as a postman for RMG Ltd. On more than 30 occasions, E applied unsuccessfully for an IT job with the company. He subsequently complained to an employment tribunal that his applications were rejected because he was a black African, born in Nigeria. The tribunal dismissed his race discrimination claims, holding that he had not proved facts from which it could conclude that there was discrimination. For instance, there was no evidence to show that the successful applicants were appropriate comparators (no evidence having been adduced as to their race and national origins). In contrast, RMG Ltd had adduced ample evidence to establish that it had good reasons, untainted by discrimination, to reject E’s applications – notably that while E was highly technically qualified, his CV did not set out the required skills for the various jobs.

Upon appeal to the EAT, E argued that the tribunal had erred in law in its application of the burden of proof, having failed to analyse properly what inferences it could (or should) have drawn from the evidence. The EAT (Mrs Justice Laing sitting alone) observed that S.136(2) of the EqA provides ‘if there are facts from which the Court could decide, in the absence of any other explanation, that a person (A) contravened the provision concerned, the Court must hold that the contravention occurred’. However, S.136(2) ‘does not apply if A shows that A did not contravene the provision’ – S.136(3). In the EAT’s view, S.136(2) does not put any initial burden on a claimant (although if the claim is ‘manifestly frivolous’, a respondent can apply to have it struck out). Rather, it requires the tribunal to consider all the evidence, from all sources, at the end of the hearing, so as to decide whether or not there are facts from which it can infer discrimination. If there are such facts, and no explanation from A, the tribunal must find the contravention proved. If a respondent chooses, without explanation, not to adduce evidence about matters that are within its knowledge (such as, in this case, the race and national origins of the successful applicants), it runs the risk that a tribunal will draw adverse inferences in deciding whether or not S.136(2) has been satisfied.

The EAT acknowledged that this is not the way in which S.136 is interpreted in the Explanatory Notes to the EqA (which state that ‘the burden of proving his or her case starts with the claimant’). However, while such notes may be an admissible aid to the construction of a statute in order to establish contextual factors, they cannot be treated as reflecting the will of Parliament, which is to be deduced from the language of the statute itself. The EAT further acknowledged that this is not the way in which the burden of proof has been understood thus far in discrimination cases, starting with Igen Ltd (formerly Leeds Careers Guidance) and ors v Wong and other cases (Brief 777). However, the statutory provision there being considered was S.63A of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (a predecessor to S.136 EqA), which – along with its ‘sibling provisions’, in for example the Race Relations Act 1976 – specifically placed the onus on the claimant to prove the initial facts from which discrimination could be inferred. There had not been many cases in which the effect of S.136 (as opposed to its predecessors) had been directly considered.

It was clear to the EAT that the tribunal did not understand the effect of S.136, since it had stated on several occasions that E had the initial burden of proving a prima facie case of discrimination. In light of this misdirection, the EAT could not be confident that the tribunal had not required E ‘to prove things that he was neither required, nor able, to prove’, such as the race and national origins of the successful candidates. In addition, the EAT could not be confident that the tribunal had imposed a sufficiently rigorous standard of proof on RMG Ltd. Had the tribunal appreciated that E did not have to get ‘to first base’ (as it put it), but that it had to consider all the evidence in the round, it might have concluded that S.136(2) was satisfied, and then have subjected RMG Ltd’s explanation to more rigorous scrutiny than it did.

The EAT therefore remitted the case to a differently constituted employment tribunal to decide whether or not E’s race discrimination claims were made out. In doing so, the EAT commented that even if S.136 were to be interpreted in line with its predecessors, it would still have allowed the appeal – it was not confident that the tribunal understood that there might have been facts from which a court could have concluded that (in the absence of an explanation) RMG Ltd had discriminated against E.

Link to transcript: http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2017/0203_16_1008.html

The Presidents of the Employment Tribunals in England and Wales and in Scotland have published their response to the consultation launched in July 2017 on uprating the bands of compensation for injury to feelings in discrimination cases. The Presidents have decided that the appropriate bands are now: a lower band of £800 to £8,400 for less serious cases; a middle band of £8,400 to £25,200 for cases that do not merit an award in the upper band; and an upper band of £25,200 to £42,000 for the most serious cases, with only the most exceptional cases capable of exceeding £42,000.

The proposal to uprate the bands came as a result of the Court of Appeal’s decision in De Souza v Vinci Construction (UK) Ltd (Brief 1074) that employment tribunals must increase compensation for injury to feelings and personal injury in discrimination cases by 10%, in line with the Court of Appeal’s decision in Simmons v Castle 2012 EWCA Civ 1039. The new bands will be set out in formal Presidential Guidance and will apply to claims presented on or after 11 September 2017. For claims presented before that date, it will be open to the tribunal to adjust the bands to reflect inflation, and the Presidential Guidance will provide the methodology for doing so.

Link to consultation response: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/vento-consultation-response-20170904.pdf

If a director was named on the ACAS Early Conciliation form and the company on the Claim Form, should the claim be allowed to proceed (as this was a minor error)?

No, held the EAT, in Giny v SNA Transport Ltd.

The Claimant brought several claims, including constructive dismissal, against his former employer. When he was initially unrepresented, he contacted Acas for Early Conciliation and named the director, Shakoor Nadeem Ahmed, as the prospective Respondent. He then instructed solicitors to prepare his Claim Form which correctly named the Respondent as his employer, ‘SNA Transport Limited’. The employment tribunal rejected his claim as the Respondent had not been correctly identified on the Early Conciliation Certificate.. His solicitors applied to the tribunal to reconsider that decision on the basis that the use of the director’s name was a “minor error”, which (under the rules) allows a tribunal to overlook it.

The employment tribunal rejected that application.. Confusing the director with the company was not a minor error, and it had been right to reject the claim. The Claimant appealed.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal, although sympathetic, rejected the Claimant’s application. It said that a two stage test should be applied.. Firstly, was it a minor error? If not, the claim would be rejected..Secondly, if it was, the tribunal should go on to consider whether or not it was in the interests of justice to allow the claim to proceed.. Although in principle the distinction between a natural and a legal person could amount to a minor error, in this case it did not. Each case should be considered on its facts, and as there was no error in the tribunal’s Judgment, the Claimant’s appeal was dismissed.