A former council employee has won over £500,000 in the Employment Tribunal after she was unfairly dismissed in March 2012.
Ms Jean Thacker worked as a part-time residential care warden at sheltered care accommodation which was run by Richmondshire District Council. In October 2010 Ms Thacker was told that she was being suspended from work after she was accused of attempting to defraud an elderly residential of the sheltered accommodation by setting up a bank account which enabled her to steal money from him. Although there was no evidence that Ms Thacker had engaged in such actions, she was suspended from her employment, told not to contact other colleagues or residents, investigated by the police and barred from her council home.
It took until July 2011 for the police investigation to conclude that no bank account had existed – and that the allegations could therefore not have been true – and that no action would be taken. However, it was not until March 2012 until her employer concluded its own investigation and dismissed the allegations against Ms Thacker. The Council, though, failed to provide her with any additional support and failed to rescind her ban from council house accommodation. It also emerged that the Council’s HR team had met in the months leading up to March 2012 and had concluded – without any evidence before them – that Ms Thacker was probably guilty of theft. Upon hearing this, Ms Thacker wrote to the council’s assistant director to obtain written acknowledgment that the allegation was untrue. However, the assistant director failed to take the reasonable step of providing such an acknowledgment and only wrote that the allegation was “not proven”.
The process – which lasted from October 2010 to March 2012 – caused Ms Thacker to suffer from debilitating stress and severe depression. As a result, she decided that she couldn’t further cope with her employer’s failure to acknowledge the lack of truth in the allegations or apologies and resigned in March 2012, claiming constructive dismissal. She subsequently took her employer to the Employment Tribunal on claims of indirect disability discrimination and constructive dismissal.
The Employment Tribunal was held in March 2013 and she was successful with her claims for indirect disability discrimination and constructive dismissal. The Employment Tribunal found that the failure to acknowledge Ms Thacker’s innocence constituted a practice, criterion or provision (“PCP”) which placed her at a particular disadvantage as compared to workers who were not disabled. Further, the Tribunal found that the failure to acknowledge the grievance was the “last straw” in her matter and that she was therefore entitled to treat the failure as a fundamental breach of contract.
Chris Hadrill, employment solicitor at Redmans, commented that “this case shows – as Ms Thacker’s solicitor has stated – that the Equality Act 2010 provides a much wider scope for employees to claim that a PCP existed which disadvantaged them. Further – and more to the point – it shows that employers who don’t deal with a worker fairly can stand to lose a lot at the Employment Tribunal”.