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12/04/2017

Court of Appeal gives judgment in Adeshina v St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

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Adeshina v St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and another [2017] EWCA Civ 257

The Court of Appeal’s judgment in Adeshina v St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and another, handed down today, has implications for unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and discrimination cases.

The claimant was Head of Pharmacy Services at HMP Wandsworth. She objected to the creation of a Central Pharmacy at the prison, which involved a change in the way that pharmacy services were delivered. Following an investigation she was dismissed for gross misconduct, namely unprofessional behaviour during a meeting about the Central Pharmacy and failure to support and lead the change in the pharmacy department. Her dismissal was upheld on appeal.

The ET (London South) found that the original decision to dismiss was unfair, identifying various failings by the decision-maker such as making findings against the claimant on related issues that had not been notified to her, but that the errors were corrected by the appeal panel which conducted a full rehearing. It therefore dismissed her complaint of unfair dismissal. It also dismissed complaints of wrongful dismissal and race discrimination, among others, and made factual findings that the claimant knew she was meant to be leading the project and deliberately resisted/obstructed it. The claimant’s appeal to the EAT (HHJ Eady QC) on unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and discrimination (as regards her dismissal only) was dismissed.

On appeal to the Court of Appeal the claimant argued, on unfair dismissal, that the disciplinary charges did not specify that her actions were wilful and the matter should have been treated as a capability issue. She also argued that it was unfair for the appeal panel to have made findings about her conduct (i.e. that she deliberately adopted an approach of passive resistance to the project) that were more serious than those of the original decision-maker. On wrongful dismissal she argued that the ET failed to make sufficient factual findings about her conduct to justify its conclusion that she had committed a repudiatory breach of contract. As to race discrimination, she argued that the ET erred in failing to explain its conclusion that the errors in the original decision to dismiss were insufficient to shift the burden of proof.

The Court of Appeal (Underhill LJ giving the lead judgment) rejected each of those arguments. The following principles may be taken from the judgment:

  • On unfair dismissal, an employer is not constrained by the precise “charges” against an employee provided it is clear they are to be read in conjunction with the management case/investigation report. In particular, it may not be necessary for an employer to specify whether conduct is wilful as that will be a matter for the decision-maker/panel. If the case is reheard on appeal, it is not necessarily unfair for the panel to make findings that are more serious than the original decision-maker.
  • Where an ET has already dealt at length with unfair dismissal it need not rehearse the factual detail again in giving its reasons on wrongful dismissal, provided it makes clear it is now making its own findings.
  • It was affirmed that mere unfairness is not enough to shift the burden of proof in a discrimination claim. The amount of explanation required for a conclusion that a prima facie case has not been established depends on the case. In this case, aside from saying that the unfairness was insufficient and amounted to no more than genuine mistakes on the part of the decision-maker, the ET did not need to explain further.

 

Ben Cooper QC and Corinna Ferguson were instructed by Capsticks Solicitors LLP for the Respondents.

Please click here for the full judgment.

 

health care, unfair dismissal, capsticks, ben cooper, corinna ferguson, court of appeal, employment law

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