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10 grievances, 9 tribunal claims forms
The decision by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in Woodhouse v West Northwest Homes Leeds will be a disappointment to employers.
Over a five year period Mr Woodhouse raised ten grievances including a claim of racist comments from his colleagues, complaints about sick pay and about the reallocation of his duties when he returned from sick leave, victimisation on account of having made previous grievances and the general way in which his grievances had been handled.
Before he left his employment he had also submitted eight claim forms to the employment tribunal and two weeks after leaving he submitted a ninth. Mr Woodhouse said that he had “lost faith in the organisation and that he was only staying [in employment] in order to fight his cases”. His employers decided that most of his grievances were empty allegations without proper evidential basis or grounds for his suspicion. Because he lodged serial grievances and tribunal claims it felt there was an irretrievable breakdown of trust and confidence and that the employment relationship could not continue, so he was dismissed.
Some sympathy must be had for the employer faced with such a difficult employee!
The tribunal took the view that his dismissal was not victimisation on grounds that he has raised complaints of race discrimination but the EAT disagreed. It said that the grievances and tribunal claims were “protected acts of race discrimination” and that he was dismissed because he made those protected acts. The employer could not show that Mr Woodhouse had made the claims in “bad faith”.
This decision, whilst it might be correct from a legal perspective, will be disappointing for employers faced with numerous, time consuming, unfounded complaints of discrimination. Mr Woodhouse’s employer incurred considerable costs and wasted a lot of time: the tribunal sat for over 15 days, it considered over 4,000 pages of documentary evidence, it listened to 10 days of evidence from 25 witnesses, followed by 3 days of deliberation and the delivery of a judgment.
Most people view any form of discrimination in the workplace as intolerable. However, they are likely to lament the disproportionate amount of public money spent on Mr Woodhouse’s weak complaints and will wonder how cases like these are allowed to tie up tribunals for long periods of time, especially if the claims have little or no value.
New rules that came into force on 29 July 2013 allows a judge to dismiss a claim or response that has no reasonable prospect of success at the “sift stage”. Hopefully, this will mean similar claims in the future will be struck out.