3rd June 2021
3rd June 2021
In this article, we bring your attention to a claim that recently determined at Tribunal and found its way into many articles and email inboxes.
Our title is intended to be humorous and, indeed, many of the articles that you read about this case are likely to sell it as ‘pizza-gate’ or otherwise gloss over the importance of the issues that arose during the claim. We have attempted to do it justice below.
Ms Lewicka was a single mother and commenced employment with Hartwell PLC, a car dealership, on the 6 May 2014. She worked as a part-time receptionist from their Watford site until November 2016 when the site closed for a rebuild.
From November 2016, Ms Lewicka and her colleagues worked from Hartwell’s Hemel Hempstead site. Whilst at this site, Ms Lewicka raised a grievance on the 9 March 2018 against Mr Mark Benson, Manager at Hartwell PLC. The grievance included a number of accusations:
Shortly after the grievance, Ms Lewicka and her colleagues moved back to the Watford site where she began experiencing:
In July 2018, Hartwell decided that Ms Lewicka’s role must be done on a full-time basis and placed her at risk of redundancy on the 8 November 2018. There was a consultation process but Ms Lewicka was ultimately dismissed on the 2 January 2019.
Ms Lewicka brought several claims before the Tribunal.
Whilst some of her claims were unsuccessful, Ms Lewicka was successful in her claims for:
What is interesting to note is the Tribunal’s explanation for its decision making which we touch on below.
The tribunal did not tackle the allegations that Ms Lewicka had made against Mr Benson as they were out of time. What it did note was that:
It was from this protected act that the Tribunal concluded that victimisation had occurred, particularly in relation to being ignored by her colleagues and a manager. The Tribunal found for the Claimant on this allegation as the Respondent had not put forward any evidence to rebut these allegations.
With regards to the exclusion from pizza Friday, Ms Lewicka asserted that at the Hemel Hempstead site, she had been included when the managers went round asking if people wanted pizza, fish and chips or other takeaway, despite the fact she finished at 1pm. Hartwell argued that she was not included at the Watford site because of this fact. Further, the witness evidence, on behalf of Hartwell, suggested that it was ad-hoc and informal.
Whilst the Tribunal accepted that pizza Friday may well be ad-hoc and informal, it concluded that Ms Lewicka had been left out of pizza Friday on the basis of her sex and part-time working arrangement (indirectly) and that it was an act of victimisation, arising from the protected act. Further, that the name itself indicated that pizza Friday was a regular occurrence.
Turning to the change of Ms Lewicka’s role from part-time to full-time and ultimately her dismissal, the Tribunal found that:
The Tribunal determined, ultimately, that this was an unfair dismissal and motivated by the protected act.
What is really interesting about this case is that:
This case, whilst having a silly title, is a sombre reminder that we should always encourage and actively engage in training on equality and diversity. The author recently had the honour of giving a short presentation of this case to the Northeast Chamber of Commerce’s members. Amongst the other comments made, one of the attendees stated that it was a reminder always to be kind to people which is a sentiment that we share.
It is also very easy to brush this sort of behaviour under the carpet and suggest it is a one off. However, since this claim has been determined, we have received two potential new enquiries with circumstances not dissimilar to these wherein women have raised grievances, following sexual harassment and then been subjected to victimisation for speaking out.
Your business may run very well but, as we see in this case, it is important to have constant training, policies and procedures in place to deal with these types of situations. Ultimately, if you are pursued for claims, whether you win or lose will turn on the facts and details that led to decisions.
If you would like to discuss any employment issues, arising from this article, whether that is training for your workforce, concerns over a potential claim or allegation, tips and tactics for ongoing claims or assistance at tribunal, please do not hesitate to speak to a member of the employment team here at BHP Law.
Call 01325 466794 and ask for Anthony Willis or Alexander Millward.