An employer has been ordered to pay £340,212.80 following successful Employment Tribunal claims for unfair dismissal, age discrimination, victimisation and breach of contract.
Mr Gregory was a Geophysicist for PetroTrace Ltd and at the date of dismissal, in late 2021, he was 62 years of age, having worked for the company for four years.
Mr Gregory brought claims against PetroTrace for unfair dismissal, direct age discrimination, direct race discrimination, victimisation, breach of contract and a claim for a redundancy payment.
During the Tribunal proceedings, it was heard that various managers at PetroTrace had discussed Mr Gregory’s age behind his back and there was email evidence which the Tribunal determined amounted to age discrimination namely that the company wanted to recruit “more active” staff as well as other emails which related specifically to Mr Gregory’s age.
PetroTrace dismissed Mr Gregory for what they initially stated to be due to a “current downturn in work”, however the company subsequently changed their reasoning for dismissal to poor performance.
Mr Gregory had a clean disciplinary record, and there were no reported instances of negative feedback or poor performance, despite PetroTrace arguing to the contrary, stating that management had raised disciplinary issues on “many occasions”.
Prior to Mr Gregory’s dismissal PetroTrace had updated its HR systems and some employees had been given updated job descriptions. Mr Gregory’s job title was also changed, which managers at the company felt was a demotion. This was however not communicated to Mr Gregory.
The Tribunal also heard correspondence from PetroTrace’s majority shareholder and its managing director Nigel Buxton which stated:
“He [Mr Gregory] is quite expensive and not productive. We better for replacement with [another employee]….[the claimant] is far over 60 years old and I am sure he doesn’t have a shortage with money” as well as “He is not a young person and I believe he is a pensioner.”
The Tribunal in its judgement stated that “we find that the comments in the emails…are inherently discriminatory and sufficient in their own right to make a firm finding that age was the reason why the claimant was singled out for dismissal and dismissed.” Further, “the claimant was treated less favourably than the comparators in that he was singled out for dismissal. The emails speak for themselves.”
The Tribunal also stated that there was no evidence that performance or redundancy was the true reason for Mr Gregory’s dismissal.
Mr Gregory was also successful in his claims for unfair dismissal, victimisation and breach of contract.
Mr Gregory’s award including almost £150,000 for financial losses, £20,000 for injury to feelings, a £42,000 uplift for the company’s failure to comply with the ACAS code, tax and interest.
This decision highlights for employers the necessity to have a potentially fair reason for dismissal as well as following fair processes and procedures when taking steps which may ultimately lead to dismissal.
Part of PetroTrace’s defence for the unfair dismissal aspect of Mr Gregory’s claim was that he had capability issues, which is a potentially fair reason for dismissal. However, there was no formal process followed nor were any conversations regarding Mr Gregory’s alleged poor performance documented, which made it incredible difficult for PetroTrace to substantiate this part of their defence.
Keeping records of conversations and following internal policies and processes will almost always be beneficial, if, as an employer you find yourself defending an Employment Tribunal claim.
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