Compensatory limits for wrongful dismissal
Fraser v Hlmad Limited, Court of Appeal, 15 June 2006
Mr Fraser brought claims for unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal in the employment tribunal. His claim for wrongful dismissal was subject to the statutory cap on the amount of payment which can be ordered in the tribunal of £25,000. On his tribunal claim form, Fraser expressly reserved his right to pursue an action in the High Court for damages in excess of £25,000. The tribunal upheld his claims for both unfair and wrongful dismissal and awarded him damages for breach of contract of more than £80,000, capped at £25,000.
Fraser then brought separate proceedings in the High Court to recover the shortfall. The company applied to strike out the High Court action on the basis of res judicata (ie, that the matter had already been litigated and judged) and abuse of process. The High Court struck out the proceedings for wrongful dismissal, and Fraser appealed.
The appeal was dismissed. The Court of Appeal was satisfied that once a tribunal had given judgment on a claim for wrongful dismissal, whether granting relief or dismissing the claim, it was not possible for a claimant to make a further claim on the same grounds, either before the tribunal or elsewhere.
The cause of action for wrongful dismissal could not be split into two causes of action, one for damages up to £25,000, and another for the balance. Further, the court was satisfied that it is not open to a claimant to avoid the operation of this legal principle by purporting to reserve a right to make a second claim in the future.
The court commented that guidance issued by the Tribunals Service should make it clear that wrongful dismissal claims where the claimant expects to be awarded more than £25,000 should not be brought in the employment tribunal, but via High Court proceedings.
It also indicated that it might be time for the secretary of state for trade and industry to reconsider the limits on the jurisdiction of tribunals in respect of claims made for wrongful dismissal.
Pregnancy discrimination claim
National Union of Teachers v Ms L Watson, Employment Appeal Tribunal, 13 June 2006
Ms Watson was employed by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) from 1991. During her second period of maternity leave, she discovered that two vacancies were advertised at a higher band. The HR department agreed to extend the closing date of the posts, so that she could complete the application. Watson was interviewed for the position, but was unsuccessful. She took proceedings against the NUT, alleging that it had directly discriminated against her.
The tribunal found that the NUT had directly discriminated against Watson on the grounds of her pregnancy in connection with its failure to appoint her. It was particularly critical of the NUTÕs interview processes, which were not transparent (no checklists had been prepared, candidates were not asked about their ability to meet some duties regarded in the job description as being essential, and notes of the interview had been destroyed).
The tribunal held that Watson made out primary facts from which it could infer discrimination in the absence of any explanation by the NUT (which was not forthcoming). It also found that she had been discriminated against because the NUT had failed to advise her of job vacancies that arose during her maternity leave. The NUT appealed and argued that, with the exception of its failure to notify her of job vacancies, the procedural defects identified by the tribunal were not related to Watson’s pregnancy.
The appeal was allowed. The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that the tribunal should not have found that the procedural defects were the result of any discrimination as they applied equally to all candidates. The only procedural defect referable to WatsonÕs maternity related to the fact that she learned of the application late. This point was remitted to the tribunal to determine to what extent this delay affected her chances of obtaining the job, if at all.
This case highlights the importance of keeping staff fully informed of all vacancies that arise while they are absent on maternity leave to ensure they receive the same opportunities as other staff.