Derbyshire and others v St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council, EAT, [2004] All ER (D) 411 (July)

Letters amount to victimisation: A group of catering staff employed by the council brought equal pay claims. The majority were settled, but some continued.

The council wrote a letter to all catering staff stating that continuing the claims would have a severe impact. It claimed that the cost of school meals would rise, making the service unviable, and that fewer staff would be required.

A second letter was sent to the staff who continued with their claims, expressing concern that the catering service could not withstand the cost if their complaints succeeded.

The employees’ equal pay claims succeeded, and they brought a further claim of victimisation on the basis of the letters written by the council, which was upheld by the tribunal. It was satisfied that the letters effectively contained a threat that the employees’ actions might deprive children of school meals and cause redundancies, and this was sufficient to amount to victimisation.

The council appealed, arguing that a claim of victimisation required more than writing a letter or making critical comments, but the EAT dismissed the appeal.

To establish victimisation it was not necessary for direct threats against individual employees. The conduct of the council was clearly capable of amounting to less favourable treatment for the purposes of establishing victimisation.

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