Legal Updates

Employment – Unfair Dismissal – Reasons Justifying Dismissal

In the case of Langton v Herbert Smith Solicitors (1) and Kalorkoti (2) (2005), the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruled that the Employment Tribunal had not erred in upholding the claims for sex discrimination and unfair dismissal made by the claimant. However, the EAT overruled the Employment Tribunal’s decision that the claimant had been victimised. The claimant, Ms Langton, was a specialist in information technology at Herbert Smith, the first respondent and a firm of solicitors based in London. Ms Langton was a senior manager and praised for her quality of work. On 1 August 2001, she went on maternity leave. In October 2001, she agreed with her supervisor that she would return to work on a part-time basis.   

In September 2002, Mr Kalorkoti, the second respondent, replaced Ms Langton’s previous supervisor. In October 2002, Ms Langton worked full-time on an interim basis as a customer service manager, yet it was a condition that upon completion of the role she would revert to her part-time contract. At a meeting held in September 2003, Ms Langton asked Mr Kalorkoti about her job prospects for the next year. His response was that it depended on whether she was planning on having any more children. Ms Langton said she was worried about her future after this remark and felt that she was put under pressure to work full-time.

Ms Langton brought a grievance against her employer which was investigated by Paula Hodges, a partner in the firm.  The claimant alleged that without having heard the full evidence, Ms Hodges concluded that it would be better for Ms Langton to work solely from the office.  Soon thereafter, Ms Langton was made redundant and told that it was due to restructuring. Ms Langton then commenced proceeding against the respondents for sex discrimination, victimisation and unfair dismissal. She succeeded before the Employment Tribunal on all calims and was awarded aggravated compensation. Herbert Smith appealed on the grounds that the Employment Tribunal erred in law in its reasoning that there had been sex discrimination, part-time working discrimination and victimisation.

The EAT concluded that:

▪     a single comment which would not have been made to a man and which had an adverse effect on a female is both less favourable treatment and constitutes a  detriment against her and is therefore sex discrimination;

▪     Mr Karlokoti pressured Ms Langton to work full-time, which amounts to less favourable treatment and therefore prohibitive;

▪     Ms Hodges’ investigation into the matter was thorough and there was no evidence of prejudgment; and

▪     Herbert Smith had unfairly dismissed Ms Langton because they should have taken reasonable steps to offer her another suitable position which was in fact available.

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© RT COOPERS, 2006. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.




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