Humiliated worker pursues personal injury claim

Posted: 16th July 2013

SchoolIn an important decision which involved re-consideration of the long-standing limits on employees recovering damages for losses arising from the manner of their dismissal, a former primary school secretary who says that she was ordered to clear her desk and 'paraded' off the premises in front of pupils and parents has won the right to pursue a damages claim in respect of her alleged psychiatric injuries.

The woman worked as an administrative assistant at a primary school for more than 10 years before she was informed by her local authority employers that she was to be made redundant on 31 August  2008. However, it was subsequently decided that she should leave earlier and, on 10 July  2008, she was publicly escorted off the premises by the chairman of the governors in a manner which she found humiliating and which was said to have caused her long-term depression.

The events of that day unleashed a raft of litigation and the woman launched claims for unfair dismissal and defamation which were both subsequently settled. She also instituted personal injury proceedings in respect of her psychiatric injuries and the local authority initially made a full admission of liability.

The local authority was at that time unaware of the House of Lords decision in Johnson v Unisys Limited (2001)  which strictly limited the right of employees to recover damages for losses caused by the manner of their dismissal. On the basis that the local authority had made an error of law, it was subsequently permitted to resile from its concession of liability and the woman’s claim was struck out.

Allowing her appeal and opening the way for her to press ahead with her personal injury claim, the Court ruled that it was arguable that her employment came to an end on 31 August  2008 rather than 10 July 2008. On that basis, it could be argued that her removal from the school pre-dated the termination of her employment and that her claim was therefore not precluded by the rule in Johnson v Unisys.

The council’s arguments that the woman’s injuries were so remote from the events in question that she did not have an arguable case were rejected by the Court and she was granted permission to amend her claim to allege that her dismissal did not occur until the later date. The Court’s decision meant that the woman’s claim could proceed to a full liability trial.