Employee Dismissed after Multiple Discrimination Complaints had been Victimised

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Posted on 16 Jul 2013

The dismissal of an employee who brought a series of grievances and claims concerning complaints of race discrimination amounted to victimisation.

In Woodhouse v West North West Homes Leeds Limited, W raised 10 grievances concerning race discrimination between 2005 and 2010. All of the grievances were rejected. W lodged nine employment tribunal claims of race discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

The tribunal dismissed the victimisation claim, ruling that W had not been dismissed because he had made discrimination complaints but because of a breakdown in the relationship between the parties and loss of trust and confidence. The employer’s reasons for dismissal were genuinely separable from the complaints of discrimination.

The EAT overturned the tribunal’s decision. It noted that the tribunal had difficulty in identifying the features which separated out the reason for dismissal from the discrimination complaints. The tribunal seemed to rely on the fact that W would inevitably raise future grievances and that this would be damaging, both to employees and the organisation. However, it is not uncommon to come across cases where grievances multiply and lead to various claims and to allow such cases to fall outside of the victimisation provisions would essentially render those provisions redundant. Provided an allegation is not made in bad faith, the fact that it is unreasonable or irrational will not mean that the employer is free to take action against the employee. 

The tribunal in this case clearly had sympathy for the employer which had been faced with a constant barrage of discrimination grievances and claims. The tribunal had concluded that the case was on all fours with the previous case of Martin v Devonshires where an employee who brought multiple false discrimination grievances in good faith and was dismissed was found not to have been victimised. The incidents alleged in that case were found never to have occurred and likely to be paranoid delusions caused by her mental illness. This was not the case here. The tribunal had described W as “obsessive and fixated” but had recognised that he was not mentally ill.

The EAT stated that Martin was a case with exceptional facts and very few cases will involve the type of behaviour displayed in that case. As such, the case should not be regarded as a template into which facts of alleged victimisation can be fitted. It will therefore be difficult for employers to avoid a finding of victimisation where an employee is dismissed on the basis of a breakdown in the employment relationship caused by the fact they have made multiple discrimination complaints.

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