A warning when dealing with serial litigators
Employers often have a ‘knee jerk’ reaction to employees raising repeated grievances or tribunal claims. However, Woodhouse v West North West Homes Leeds Ltd is a reminder that employers need to be careful when dismissing an employee who has made serial complaints alleging discrimination. Unless the employee has acted in bad faith, or the reason for the dismissal is ‘properly separable’ from the protected acts (which would be exceptional), the dismissal is likely to be discriminatory.
Mr. Woodhouse lodged ten internal grievances and seven employment tribunal claims alleging race discrimination. The first grievance had some substance but from then on they were found to be “empty allegations without any proper evidential basis or grounds for his suspicion“. He was ultimately dismissed after telling his employer that he had lost trust and confidence in the organisation.
The EAT found that this amounted to victimisation and that his dismissal was unfair. The reason for the dismissal (loss of trust and confidence) was not genuinely separable from the protected acts (the grievances and claims of race discrimination).
Although there is a defence to an allegation of victimisation if the employee has acted in bad faith, it did not apply here. Mr Woodhouse had specifically been told to use the grievance procedure to resolve any issues he had and in the circumstances it was found that he had acted in good faith.