Duncan Lewis Solicitors have been awarded £20,000 following an employment tribunal claim. This comes after a former case worker brought vexatious claims against the firm. Despite having no reasonable prospects of success, Ms Manjeet Puar continued her claims, which the tribunal concluded was to cause frustration.
We begin by discussing what happened in the case, followed by the tribunal’s judgement concerning costs. Then, we explore what employers could do if they faced a similar circumstance. Should you have any questions, contact Redmans Solicitors now. They are expert employment law specialists and have assisted several people with various employment issues.
The Employment Tribunal Claim
Long, drawn-out proceedings against Duncan Lewis Solicitors (“The Respondent”) came to a close after Ms Puar (“The Claimant”) lost her employment tribunal claim. The dispute began after the firm dismissed Ms Puar with a week’s notice following an unsatisfactory probation period.
Although the claimant initially impressed them during her interview, opinions about her conduct and performance soon changed. The tribunal learned how Ms Puar would ask for more work, saying her tasks were ‘hardly rocket science’, and then refuse work allocated to her by her supervisor, Mrs Mubashra Khan.
This was because Mrs Khan allocated work based on capability and capacity. However, the claimant wanted work that her supervisor deemed too complex for her, based on her current experience. As such, Mrs Khan felt continuously undermined by Ms Puar’s correspondence, causing several heated arguments.
Also, despite requesting more work, the tribunal heard that the claimant had missed deadlines. The respondent explained this resulted from Ms Puar prioritising billable work over others.
Furthermore, despite previous feedback, Ms Puar sent witness statements to a client without a solicitor’s approval. Such approval was necessary as any issues with the documentation would fall on the qualified solicitor’s head, not the claimant’s. Moreover, the documentation contained poor spelling and grammar.
Ms Puar’s Dismissal
Leading up to Ms Puar’s dismissal, the respondent had several probation meetings discussing their concerns with her conduct and behaviour. They also provided feedback on areas they believed she could improve. However, the respondent felt the claimant hadn’t addressed the issues throughout her probation, leading to her dismissal.
Then, Ms Puar appealed her dismissal, claiming she’d been treated like a ‘slave’ and discriminated against on grounds of race and religion. However, the dismissal was upheld after a nearly six-hour hearing by the firm’s practice manager, Mr Jason Bruce. He didn’t find any discrimination; instead, he found the claimant’s conduct and behaviour gave reasonable grounds for her dismissal.
As a result, Ms Puar began proceedings against the firm, ultimately leading to her unsuccessful employment tribunal claim. The judgement stated her claims of direct discrimination, harassment, victimisation, and breach of contract were all not well-founded and dismissed.
Reserved Costs Judgment for Vexatious Claims
A separate hearing occurred sometime after the unsuccessful employment tribunal claim, providing a reserved costs judgment. The judgment began by stating that Ms Puar had conducted the proceedings unreasonably, almost from their inception.
The claimant failed to attend hearings, only informing the tribunal of this at late notice, with excuses they deemed inadequate. Also, she ignored correspondence, only acting when her claim was struck out. The tribunal felt this wasted both their time and the respondent’s.
Furthermore, they stated that the employment tribunal claim had no reasonable prospects of success. This was because there wasn’t any evidence to suggest the treatment she received arose from discrimination because of race. In comparison, there was overwhelming evidence to show a non-discriminatory reason for the treatment she experienced.
Moreover, the tribunal stated Ms Puar’s approach during proceedings was unusual. This was because she wanted to keep her claim alive but sought to avoid a final hearing. They believed her motivations were to cause inconvenience to the respondent by keeping the prospect of a large discrimination claim hanging over them.
Therefore, the tribunal concluded that Ms Puar had made vexatious claims. Not only to provoke the respondent but the individuals within it.
An Award of Cost
Before the reserved costs judgment, the respondent attempted to give Ms Puar a way out. They explained that since she couldn’t prove she’d been discriminated against, her case had no reasonable prospect of success. As such, they offered not to pursue costs if the claimant withdrew her claim.
Then, despite Ms Puar rejecting this offer, the firm improved it, offering her £1,250. However, again, the claimant didn’t accept their offer. The tribunal held that the claimant had embroiled the respondent in a vast, unmeritorious claim. They added she’d been rude and disruptive and sought to frustrate and inconvenience the respondent.
During this hearing, the respondent estimated their costs for the proceedings at roughly £40,000, capping their application at £20,000. The tribunal believed the respondent had underestimated their calculations but was satisfied that £20,000 was “a proper sum to award”. Therefore, the tribunal ordered Ms Puar to pay the respondent £20,000.
Dealing With A Vexatious Employment Tribunal Claim
Employers will want to avoid vexatious claims where possible so that time and money aren’t wasted. They could first informally speak with the employee to try and prevent them from becoming an employment tribunal claim. If this is possible, it’s recommended to keep a record of the conversation that takes place.
However, if an informal resolution fails or isn’t possible, employers should investigate the complaints made by the employee. Even if they believe it to be a malicious grievance, they should investigate it fairly, in a manner compliant with ACAS procedures. This would ensure employers have nothing to worry about if an employment tribunal claim was brought against them, as they remained legally compliant.
If you have any questions about vexatious claims, contact Redmans Solicitors today. They can answer your questions and guide you through the legal process if eligible.
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