Homelessness charity St Mungo’s victimised a former staff member by refusing to give her work over an abandoned bullying investigation and equal pay claim from 15 years before, an employment tribunal ruled.
The East London tribunal found Leigh Andrews, who worked as a welfare rights coordinator for Broadway Homelessness and Support before it merged with St Mungo’s, was victimised after she was refused work as a locum worker for the charity because of allegations made against her and then dropped in 2004.
St Mungo’s said it would appeal against the ruling.
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Andrews began working for Broadway in September 2002. She applied for jobs in Oldham after her husband “had been forced to relocate to Manchester”, and Andrews gave her one month’s notice on 7 April 2004.
Shortly after she had given notice, Andrews was called into a meeting to discuss bullying allegations that had been made against her by her manager, Caroline Tudor. She was told there had already been a preliminary investigation of the allegations, but the decision had been not to proceed with the formal investigation.
Andrews said she was surprised the matter was “being simultaneously raised with her and closed, without her having had the opportunity to answer the allegations”. She told the tribunal she was concerned that the allegations “being left in the air without being solved” might cause difficulties for her as she intended to continue working in the same sector. However, the tribunal heard no subsequent action was taken against her.
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Shortly after leaving her position at Broadway, Andrews stated she discovered a male colleague had been paid more than she had for work that she considered to be of equal value. She lodged tribunal proceedings, but she ultimately elected not to continue with the claim.
Andrews returned to work with St Mungo’s – which had by then merged with Broadway Homelessness and Support in April 2014 – between July 2017 and June 2018 as a freelance consultant. She successfully applied to be part of the charity’s bank of locum workers in May 2018, and was also told she could be considered for management roles in the future.
The request was put to Helen Giles, executive director of HR and governance at St Mungo's. Giles had also previously worked at Broadway, having transferred to St Mungo’s under TUPE as part of the merger, and told the tribunal she immediately recalled the bullying allegations against Andrews because "they had been so extreme".
The tribunal said it was likely that Giles had had a discussion about Andrews’ employment with Howard Sinclair, chief executive of St Mungo’s, who had also transferred from Broadway under TUPE. Following this discussion, Andrews received an email on 8 June withdrawing the offer of locum work with the reason that "information has subsequently come to light surrounding your employment at Broadway". She replied a few days later on 12 June expressing concern and asking what the information was.
A reply written by Giles sent on 15 June said: "We do not offer employment or work via our locum bank to any ex-employee of the organisation or any predecessor organisation either where they were previously subject to a disciplinary action or they resigned from/left the organisation at a time when a disciplinary investigation was underway."
Following this, Andrews brought claims of victimisation to the tribunal, which ruled in her favour.
In his judgment, Judge David Massarella rejected St Mungo’s explanation that the decision was taken because of the "vivid recollection of Mr Sinclair and/or Ms Giles of serious and credible, historic bullying allegations against the claimant".
He said Giles’s description of the allegations against Andrews was "difficult to reconcile" with the description Tudor gave during the initial investigation at the time, which included allegations of “cold shouldering” Tudor, deliberately excluding Tudor from team conversations and making snide comments and ignoring instructions.
Massarella also said it was likely the decision was made by both Giles and Sinclair, and that it was "equally likely" Andrews’ earlier equal pay proceedings were brought up and that this "formed at least part of their reason for revoking the offer".
"We do not believe that either of these experienced and senior managers took this decision on the basis of the generalised recollections they described to us," Massarella said.
The tribunal ordered St Mungo’s to pay Andrews £17,527, including £12,000 for injury to feelings and £4,007 for loss of earnings, plus interest on both amounts.
A spokeswoman for St Mungo’s said the charity had been granted an oral hearing to consider its grounds of appeal, and a date is still to be determined.
Andrew Willis, head of legal at HR-inform, said this case was a clear demonstration of how equal pay claims and previous accusations of gross misconduct can return to cause severe issues for an employer if they are later associated with detrimental treatment – even if the claims were not taken further at the time.
"As seen here, trying to rely on previous accusations of gross misconduct in employment decisions, without first conducting a fair disciplinary procedure to determine if they actually took place, will likely not be considered a reasonable explanation by a tribunal,” Willis said. “Had the employer conducted such a procedure at the time, they may have been able to rely on its outcome in justifying their decision.”
Andrews could not be reached for comment.