Council pays employee more than £500,000 following false theft allegation
A former council employee has been awarded a settlement of more than half a million pounds following a claim of disability discrimination which arose from a false allegation of theft.
Jean Thacker was employed as a part-time residential care warden at a sheltered accommodation run by Richmondshire District Council. In October 2010 she was suspended from duty after she was accused of persuading an elderly resident at the accommodation to set up a bank account which enabled her to steal money from him.
Although there was no evidence to support the allegation, Thacker was banned from speaking to residents or colleagues, investigated by the police and barred from her own council accommodation.
In July 2011 the investigation was dropped by the police, who confirmed no bank account had existed and that no action would be taken. However, it took a further year for the council to complete its own investigation and dismiss the allegations against Thacker.
However, even after this point Thacker remained barred from her council home and the council failed to provide her with any further support. In addition, it was found that, more than nine months before its own investigation was concluded, the council’s HR team had met and already decided Thacker was, on balance of probabilities, guilty of theft. This was before Thacker had been interviewed or told the details of the allegations against her.
Upon discovering this, Thacker sought acknowledgement from the council’s assistant director that the allegations were untrue. The council, however, failed to take the reasonable step of providing that acknowledgment and only wrote that the allegation was “not proven”.
The 16-month process caused Thacker to suffer from the disability of severe depression. Because of this, Thacker could not cope with her employer’s failure to acknowledge her innocence and in March 2012, on the advice of her solicitor, she resigned claiming constructive dismissal.
Consequently, she was awarded £558,868.66 at an employment tribunal.
Thacker said: “I would not wish my worst enemy to go through what I have suffered. I lost my home and my home and my credibility amongst colleagues and residents. “
“I would have preferred an apology and acceptance at least a year ago, to recover my health, my home and my friends. I will look on this settlement as the apology I was due.”
Thacker was advised and represented throughout by Stephen Jackson, principal at employment law firm Jackson Osborne. He said: “When dealing with sickness and capability issues, HR professionals need to remain alert to the fact that failure to conduct a fair process, even if in only one respect, may lead to disability discrimination.
“Care must be taken not to rely on recent case dealing the need for reasonable adjustments discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) if it is the Equality Act 2010 which applies. Had Mrs Thacker’s case arisen under the DDA, the employer could have argued that failure to provide an apology could not amount to a ‘practice’ on the basis that consideration of making any apology was a one off event and, therefore, that the question of making a reasonable adjustment (i.e. giving an apology) did not arise.
“However, the failures in respect of Mrs Thacker occurred after 1 October 2010 and so fell under the Equality Act 2010 and the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Equality Act 2010 Code of Practice (2011) which, at paragraphs 4.5 and 6.10, specifically embraces one-off decisions and actions.”
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