Case law updates

Grievance and appeal process found to be “discriminatory or harassing”

A former employee has won her claim for discrimination unfair dismissal against railway infrastructure services company VolkerRail as a result of suffering sexual harassment including the way in which claimant’s grievance and appeal process was handled.

Whilst working for VolkerRail the claimant was subjected to persistent unwanted romantic advances and other inappropriate conduct by her line manager. She raised a grievance after resigning from the company. Following an investigation VolkerRail decided that although the behaviour was inappropriate, it did not constitute sexual harassment. The same decision was reached on appeal. Although during the grievance period the claimant attempted to withdraw her resignation, the request was denied.

The tribunal found her line manager’s conduct did satisfy the definition of sexual harassment that part of the claim was “out of time”. However it did decide that the way in which the grievance and appeal process were conducted amounted to sexual harassment in itself. It also felt that VolkerRail’s refusal to allow her to withdraw the resignation was also victimisation, as the company continued to terminate her contract due to the discrimination complaint.

In summary the Tribunal took the view that it was a very rare case “where there are original allegations of harassment or discrimination, and a grievance or appeal process is also found to be discriminatory or harassing, rather than just unreasonable or poor.” The claimant’s solicitor added that it was “hard to imagine a more stark example of the disastrous consequences that can result from getting these processes wrong”.

Although VolkerRail sought to appeal the tribunal’s decision, it was struck out. It then sought to argue that the claimant should be entitled to minimal compensation. However the tribunal awarded the claimant £420,000 in damages in respect of her financial losses and the injuries to feelings and health she had suffered as a result of how she was treated.