Tribunal throws out Witham Weld's appeal in unfair dismissal dispute

CHURCH and charity law firm Witham Weld has lost its appeal against an unfair dismissal claim brought by one of its secretaries.

June Hedley, who worked at the Pimlico-based practice for 12 years before she was made redundant, originally won her claim against the firm two years ago when it was ordered to pay her £14,262 compensation, capped to the statutory maximum of £11,000.

But the firm appealed on six points of law and also argued it should not have to pay any compensation.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal, which heard the case on 6 October 1995, failed Witham Weld's appeal on all six points and referred the matter of compensation to Croydon Industrial Tribunal, which heard the case on 19 June.

The tribunal ruled Withams should pay the full £11,000.

At the hearing Withams partner Jerry Hawthorne argued that although the correct consultation had not been carried out before Hedley was chosen for redundancy, she would have been chosen even if the partners had used a fair procedure and so the firm should not have to pay her compensation.

He said Hedley had been reprimanded for her attitude and lateness. She had said herself that there had been personal clashes between her and office manager Peter Kenward so there would have been no point in consultation, particularly in a small practice where the employers knew all their employees.

Hedley's barrister Michael Ford, of Doughty Street Chambers, said it was up to Withams to suggest a selection procedure that would have been fair and it had still not done so. It should have consulted with all five secretaries before deciding who to dismiss. One secretary was 62 and may well have volunteered for redundancy.

He said there was no real evidence to show Hedley's lateness record was any worse than the other secretaries and Withams had not raised the issue of lateness at the original hearing.

The memo reprimanding her was dated 1992, two years before she was dismissed. In fact Kenward had written to her saying: “You will, of course, receive a good reference for your work in the past.”

After the hearing, Hawthorne said: “I am not happy with the decision. I think there is a large employer mentality at industrial tribunals and other such institutions which do not fully understand how a small firm works.”

He said he had not yet decided how to proceed but that, in any event, it would be “with dignity”.

Hedley, who is now working at law firm Hudson Freeman Berg, said: “I just hope it's all over now. We've been through three hearings in the past two years. That's a long time to have to go through something like this.”