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Constructive dismissal case studies

Case study 1: Discrimination/harassment

Gabby pursued her childhood dream and joined the fire service. After a period of training she was assigned to a small rural fire station.

Her watch manager Julian resented having a woman assigned to his team and he singled her out for additional cleaning and administrative duties. He also banned her from driving the station’s fire engine (commenting “women drivers should not be allowed on the road”) and made disparaging, sometimes lewd, comments about her appearance.

Gabby understandably resented the blatant sexual discrimination and harassment meted out by Julian, and she verbally complained to other crew members and the fire service group manager.

Julian’s behaviour failed to improve, however; in, fact it became worse. One day, Gabby came into work and overheard Julian bragging to other crew members that she had “finally succumbed to his charms” and slept with him.

This was completely untrue and the idea of sleeping with Julian repulsed Gabby. But, bizarrely, the other crew members at the fire station believed him, and they became increasingly hostile to her.

Because of the harassment, Gabby started having trouble sleeping at night, so she went to see her GP. The doctor diagnosed she was suffering from stress and depression, and advised her to take a short leave of absence from work, which she did.

During her time off, Gabby contacted her union who advised her to lodge a formal, written complaint under the county fire service grievance procedure.

The fire service assigned group manager Don, an old acquintance of Julian’s, to investigate the complaint. Don spoke to Julian and Gabby’s fellow crew members to remind them about the fire service policy on harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

One of the crew members, Dave, asked to speak to Don privately. He told Don that Julian was “taking advantage” of Gabby and “treated her as if she was worthless”. He also corroborated Gabby’s allegations that Julian had made lewd comments about her appearance and banned her from driving the fire engine.

Despite Dave’s evidence, Don filed a report that found “no evidence” of sex discrimination or harassment. The report merely recommended that the fire service consider transferring Gabby to a different station.

Gabby didn’t want a transfer, however. She hadn’t done anything wrong, was starting to earn the respect and friendship of her colleagues (like Dave), and didn’t want to leave all her friends and family to relocate to another fire station far away.

But Julian’s behaviour was getting worse and worse. On one occasion, when they were alone, he tried to kiss Gabby. When she pulled away, he threatened that he would “kill her” if she ever told anyone about it.

Gabby began suffering from severe nightmares and insomnia and her GP advised her to take another leave of absence. During her time off, she filed another grievance with the fire service, but they simply referred the matter back to Don who organised a “grievance hearing” with Julian.

Gabby sought legal advice and she decided to resign.

Result: Gabby lodged a complaint with an employment tribunal for constructive dismissal and sex discrimination. The fire service settled out of court and paid Gabby £200,000 compensation.

Case study 2: Bullying

David suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and learning difficulties. He has worked as a green keeper at Parkside Golf Club for a number of years. Two years ago, his old boss Mike retired and a new head green keeper was appointed.

Ever since he started work, David’s new boss has bullied and gone out of his way to intimidate Will.

One day, he told David to wear a bright yellow hat to distinguish him from other staff and to alert golfers to his presence.

He also ordered David to carry heavy equipment in a wheelbarrow and banned him from using a motorised vehicle, meaning that his duties involved an unfair amount of heavy work, often without breaks.

Then, last Christmas, Will organised for staff at the club to receive presents. He bought David a fluffy bunny rabbit and said “I didn’t want to get anything with hard edges in case you hurt yourself”.

On another occasion, Will approached David from behind and violently knocked a spade out of his hands. He then pushed him out of the way, using bad language.

David eventually resigned due to poor health.

Result: David was awarded £80,000 in compensation for constructive dismissal and disability discrimination.

Case study 3: Performance

Ace Technologies hired a new chief operating officer (COO), Bob.

The company’s directors felt that Bob was good at most day-to-day tasks, such as people management, but felt his strategic decision-making often left a lot to be desired.

For example, he entered into a partnership with a supplier who turned out to be bankrupt, failed to invoke legal break clauses on a development deal that went badly wrong, and misrepresented the CEO’s views in an attempt to secure additional funds from the CFO.

After two years, the company’s board of directors finally lost patience with what they perceived as Bob’s mismanagement, and told him they had lost all confidence in him. They said he should ‘move on’ and leave the company unless he could deliver ‘an immediate improvement in performance’.

Bob promptly resigned and claimed constructive dismissal.

Result: Bob won £150,000 damages for wrongful constructive dismissal. The employment tribunal ruled the company broke the relationship of trust and failed to follow its internal disciplinary procedure in handing Bob an ultimatum.

Case study 4: Pay/promotion

Carly worked as a chartered accountant for a small upwardly mobile firm in the shires. She worked her socks off to win a promotion and ended up managing the account of a successful retail client.

Over three years, she developed the account for the expanding retailer with her boss Devika.

When Devika left the firm she assumed she would be considered first-in-line to replace her, but she was not even interviewed for the position.

Carly asked why she had not been promoted, or even asked to interview for the role, and was told that she was “too raw and inexperienced”.

The person the firm hired, however, actually had less experience than she did!

Carly tried to forget about the rejection and buckled down to show everyone what she was capable of.

But despite becoming the firm’s highest fee earner, the firm gave Carly scant recognition when bonus time came around.

When she queried the size of the bonus, her new boss told her it was “high for a woman of your age”.

Carly decided to resign.

Result: Carly brought a claim for constructive dismissal. The firm settled out of court and paid her £120,000 compensation.

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