Hanif Mohammed T/A Mohammed & Co Solicitors v Jackson UKEAT/0370/12/SM

Appeal against a finding that the claimant had been victimised by being subject to a detriment for doing a protected act. Appeal allowed and remitted to a fresh Tribunal for a full hearing.

The claimant worked at a solicitors firm when she became pregnant. She had a termination and was off work for a few weeks  suffering from the physical and psychological effects of the termination and the stress at work. She went back to work in January but was told by the respondent that she could not come back until she had obtained a fit to work note from her GP (although GP’s were no longer given the option of certifying that an employee was fit for work). The GP gave her a note stating that there was no need for him to see her again, but this was not enough for the respondent to allow her back. There then followed several months where the respondent obtained, with the claimant’s permission, access to her medical records with the intention of obtaining a report from a different doctor, but the process was never concluded and the claimant resigned in November. During this time the claimant was only paid SSP. She lodged her first ET1 in April complaining of sex and religious discrimination and unlawful deductions from wages, and a second ET1 in August complaining of victimisation. The ET found in her favour in respect of victimisation and unlawful deductions. The respondent appealed against the victimisation ruling.

The EAT allowed the appeal on the grounds that the judgment was not Meek compliant. There was an absence of reasoning as to why the Tribunal had found that the respondent delayed the process of bringing the investigation to a conclusion. Not only did the respondent not understand why he lost but the EAT did not understand why he lost and that was a deficiency which amounted to an error of law.

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Appeal No. UKEAT/0370/12/SM

EMPLOYMENT APPEAL TRIBUNAL

FLEETBANK HOUSE, 2-6 SALISBURY SQUARE, LONDON EC4Y 8JX

At the Tribunal

On 18 December 2012

Before

HIS HONOUR JUDGE BIRTLES; MS V BRANNEY; MR T STANWORTH

HANIF MOHAMMED T/A MOHAMMED & CO SOLICITORS (APPELLANT)

JACKSON (RESPONDENT)

Transcript of Proceedings

JUDGMENT

**APPEARANCES**

For the Appellant MR COLIN BOURNE (of Counsel)

Instructed by: Mohammed & Co St Johns House 42 St Johns Place Stoneygate Preston PR1 3XX

For the Respondent MS LAURA DANIELS (of Counsel)

Instructed by: Stephensons Solicitors LLP 24 Lord Street Leigh WN7 1AB

**SUMMARY**

PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE – Bias, misconduct and procedural irregularity

The Employment Tribunal failed to make the appropriate findings of fact and explain its reasoning as to why it found the Respondent had failed to process the medical assessment - delayed it - to enable her return to work: Meek v Birmingham City Council [1987] IRLR 250 applied.

**HIS HONOUR JUDGE BIRTLES****Introduction**
  1. This is an appeal from the Judgment of an Employment Tribunal sitting at Manchester in November 2011 and January 2012. The Judgment and reasons were sent to the parties on 1 February 2012. The unanimous Judgment of the Tribunal was: (1) that the First Respondent had unlawfully deducted the Claimant's wages from 7 January 2011 to 23 November 2011; (2) the First and Second Respondents did not unlawfully discriminate against the Claimant because of her sex contrary to the Equality Act 2010; and (3) the First and Second Respondents victimised the Claimant for taking proceedings to an Employment Tribunal, claiming sex and religious discrimination by subjecting her to a detriment for doing a protected act, contrary to the Equality Act 2010.
  1. This is an appeal by the First and Second Respondents against the third finding of the Employment Tribunal: the victimisation claim. The question of the unlawful deduction of wages has been settled at a review hearing and the Claimant does not cross appeal the finding in respect of direct discrimination on the grounds of her sex.
  1. This morning, the Appellant has been represented by Mr Colin Bourne of counsel and the Respondent by Ms Laura Daniels of counsel. We are grateful to both of them for their written and oral submissions.
**The factual background**
  1. The Employment Tribunal made findings of fact in paragraphs 2 to 16 of its reasons. We pause here to note that the reasons do not follow the requirement set out in the Employment Tribunal Rules as to the structure of the reasons. This may well be one of the explanations as to why we find these reasons defective. In summary, the Claimant, in her first ET1 claimed both sex and religious discrimination. The claim for religious discrimination was withdrawn. She also claimed for unlawful deduction of wages. The ET1 was dated 1 April 2011. The second ET1 was a claim for victimisation. That is dated 15 August 2011.
  1. The Claimant was employed by the First Respondent firm of solicitors from 1 January 2008, firstly as a receptionist, and from March 2008 as a legal assistant. By August 2010 she was in charge of residential conveyancing files under the supervision of a Mr Patel, the conveyancing team leader. She resigned on 23 November 2011, the day before the Employment Tribunal hearing.
  1. In early November 2010 the Claimant discovered that she was pregnant. It was an unplanned pregnancy and she attended the Marie Stopes Clinic for consultation and advice. She was off work briefly because of the pregnancy. On 23 November 2010 she told Mr Mohammed, the Principal of the Respondent firm, that she was going to have a termination. She was distressed. Mr Mohammed told her to go home for the day and she had a little more time off work. She had a termination and had more time off work as a result of that. While she was away there was some concern by the Respondent about the quality of her work.
  1. On the evening of 29 November the Claimant saw her General Practitioner and the Tribunal found that she had explained to him/her that she was struggling to cope with the trauma of the termination, coupled with the stress she was being placed under at work at the time. She was given a statement of fitness for work, stating she was unfit for two weeks and the reason given was stress at work. On 13 December 2010 she was signed off for a further two weeks, again with the reason being given as stress at work. She gave evidence to the Tribunal that at the time she was still suffering from the psychological effects of the abortion and the fact that her relationship with her partner had broken up. On 14 December 2011 she received an email from Mr Mohammed objecting to the GP putting stress at work on the fitness notes. I think it is clear from the evidence that Mr Patel was not aware of this. He thought that the reason for her being off work was the effects of the termination.
  1. The Claimant returned to work on 4 January 2011 after the Christmas break. She felt well and was able to cope with her job. She met Mr Mohammed who told her that she would not be allowed to return until she had obtained a fit to work note from her GP. She made an appointment for the following day with her GP. Later on 4 January she received an email from Mr Mohammed stating he had a duty of care not to allow her to return to work unless she was well enough to do so. He referred to her email of 14 December and was clearly concerned about her condition. The Tribunal note in paragraph 9 of its reasons that the fit note, introduced by the Department of Work and Pensions in 2010, no longer gives a General Practitioner the option of certifying that an employee is fit for work. It does permit him to state that he does not need to see the patient again.
  1. On 5 January the Claimant saw her GP and he gave her a note of unfitness retrospective to 28 December 2010, stating there was no need for him to see her again. That note expired on 6 January 2011. The Tribunal took the view that this was a clear statement that the Claimant was fit for work and no further evidence was required. When the Claimant gave the final note to Mr Mohammed he refused to accept it because he thought that it did not state unequivocally that the Claimant was fit to work. He wrote to the GP for written confirmation as to whether the Claimant was capable of carrying on with her current job role. The Tribunal note that Mr Mohammed, albeit a practising solicitor, was not aware of the detail of the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988. The GP replied to Mr Mohammed on 12 January saying that he lacked the experience to comment on the patient's capability of carrying out her current job role and suggested that a referral should be made to a consultant psychiatrist or an occupational health adviser.
  1. The Respondent did not have a contract with an occupational health provider. Mr Mohammed replied that he was puzzled by the response and he took the GP's letter of 12 January 2011 to mean that the Claimant remained unfit for work. He requested the medical records of the Claimant from the GP practice. The GP practice, the Tribunal found, was unhappy about releasing the full medical records to the Respondent and suggesting that they be released to the patient or to a consultant who was to provide an independent medical report. They referred to the Data Protection Act 1998. At the same time the Respondent wrote to the Royal Preston Hospital asking for all of the Claimant's medical records enclosing her written consent to this. The Tribunal were critical of Mr Mohammed's ignorance of the Data Protection Act 1998 as well as the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988. In particular, Mr Mohammed was not competent to interpret them because he had no medical qualifications.
  1. The Claimant remained on statutory sick pay until 17 June 2011 when it expired. Her evidence to the Tribunal was that from 7 January 2011 she was ready, able and willing to work, as evidenced by the GP's note of 5 January 2011. On 9 February 2011 she raised a grievance asking for her pay to be restored. The Respondent gave evidence to the Tribunal that it would have been a breach of its duty of reasonable care for the health of its employee to allow her back to work until there was a statement from her doctor that she was fit. Following receipt of the Claimant's grievance the Respondent suggested to the Claimant that she should pay any wasted costs of a consultant of £750 an hour if he was not provided with the requisite medical records.
  1. The Tribunal found that this was a threat to deter the Claimant from proceeding further with her grievance. The Claimant had made it clear she did not object to disclosure of her records. She was willing to be seen by an occupational health consultant or a consultant psychiatrist. Mr Mohammed received the Claimant's GP records, which refer to the termination on 11 April 2011. Her hospital records had been received on 22 March 2011. The records from the Marie Stopes Clinic, which carried out the termination, were received in August 2011. They showed that the Claimant suffered from depression and was taking the drug Sertraline. The Tribunal specifically said it has no evidence on which to judge whether this affected her fitness for work, nor did Mr Mohammed. They found that the GP did not consider that it rendered her unfit in January 2011.
  1. In a section then headed 'The Law', which is in fact not a section setting out the relevant law, the Tribunal made a series of findings. We need only, for the purposes of this appeal, to consider paragraph 19. It says this:

"As regards the complaint of victimisation, the Tribunal finds that the Respondent subjected the Claimant to a detriment, namely continuing to refuse to allow her to work and earn her wages, because she had brought an Employment Tribunal claim for sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 and had raised a grievance about an unlawful deduction of wages. The Tribunal finds that her claims were made in good faith because she genuinely believed, although the Tribunal found mistakenly, that it was her termination of pregnancy that influenced Mr Mohammed to continue to resist allowing her to return to work after she had submitted her first ET1 and that was an act of sex discrimination. The Claimant asserted that after she brought proceedings the Respondent's investigation of her fitness to work was put on hold, but the Respondent argued that it was her fault for delaying obtaining all her medical records which had held up the process. The Claimant commented that the Respondent could not produce any evidence that a consultant had been appointed, though Mr Mohammed said that he had approached the Priory Clinic. In a letter to the Claimant's solicitors, dated 3 May 2011, he wrote that he had consulted the Priory Clinic on an 'initial no obligation basis' with a wish to instruct one of two named consultants. The letter continues that the employer needed 'some background as to your client's medical history on an open and frank basis'. At this time he had received all her GP records and those from the Royal Preston Hospital. The Marie Stopes records were obtained in August 2011. No attempt was made even after that to instruct a consultant, though at this stage Mr Mohammed had all the GP and hospital records of which he had had possession for some months, as well as the clinic records. The Tribunal finds that there is sufficient evidence that after the Claimant presented her first ET1 to the Tribunal the Respondent delayed the process of bringing the investigation to a conclusion, while meanwhile the Claimant from June 2011 was receiving no pay or SSP, as she made the Respondent aware. This was victimisation contrary to section 27 Equality Act 2010. She continued to be an employee of the Respondent and it was unreasonable not to make a decision about her return to work, when the Respondent already had had access to all her GP and hospital records for some time and from August 2011 also had her Marie Stopes records. Mr Mohammed was in any event not competent to interpret any of this information, and should have sought an expert's report. The Tribunal therefore finds the complaint of victimisation proved."

**The law**
  1. It is not necessary for the purposes of this appeal to go into the law relating to the Equality Act 2010 and victimisation in any detail. Section 27 of the Equality Act 2010 provides this:

"Victimisation

(1) A person (A) victimises another person (B) if A subjects B to a detriment because—

(a) B does a protected act, or

(b) A believes that B has done, or may do, a protected act.

(2) Each of the following is a protected act—

(a) bringing proceedings under this Act;

(b) giving evidence or information in connection with proceedings under this Act;

(c) doing any other thing for the purposes of or in connection with this Act;

(d) making an allegation (whether or not express) that A or another person had contravened the Act.

(4) This section applies only where the person subjected to a detriment is an individual.."

There is no disagreement as to what the appropriate law was for the Employment Tribunal was to apply.

**The grounds of appeal**
  1. There are three grounds of appeal and we take each in turn. Before turning to them we should also add that Mr Bourne, on behalf of the Appellant, accepts that the Claimant had done a protected act in this case, which was the first application to the Employment Tribunal claiming discrimination and unlawful deduction of wages. The appeal is predicated on the basis that the Claimant was not subject to any detriment by reason of having brought the first proceedings.
  1. Ground 1: making findings on victimisation that were not part of the Claimant's claim. Mr Bourne submits that there was no claim in respect of an act of victimisation by reason of the fact that the Claimant had raised a grievance concerning the unlawful deduction of wages. That grievance was made on 9 February 2011.
  1. Paragraph 19 of the reasons is, at best, ambiguous. We are inclined to accept Ms Daniels' interpretation of the first part of paragraph 19, where the Tribunal say this:

"As regards the complaint of victimisation, the Tribunal finds that the Respondent subjected the Claimant to a detriment, namely continuing to refuse to allow her to work and earn her wages, because she had brought an Employment Tribunal claim for sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 and had raised a grievance about an unlawful deduction of wages."

  1. The sex discrimination claim and the unlawful deduction of wages do form part of the original Employment Tribunal claim. It is, therefore, possible that the Tribunal was referring to that. If, however, they were referring to the grievance as separate protected act then they are wrong because the form ET1 in the second victimisation proceedings makes no reference whatsoever to the raising of the grievance as being a protected act (see appeal bundle at pages 54 to 55). However, if that is right, then the Tribunal have clearly made an error of law. However, that does not affect the result of this case because Mr Bourne, for the Respondent, accepts that the Claimant had made a protected act under section 27(1)(a) and 27(2)(a) in that she had brought proceedings under the Act, that is the first set of proceedings.
  1. This case stands or falls on ground 2. Ground 2: failure to provide reasons that are compliant with the decision in Meek v Birmingham City Council [1987] IRLR 250. The relevant passage is in the Judgment of Bingham LJ, as he then was, at paragraph 8, where he said:

"It has on a number of occasions been made plain that the decision on an Industrial Tribunal is not required to be an elaborate formalistic product of refined legal draftsmanship, but it must contain an outline of the story which had given rise to the complaint and a summary of the Tribunal's basic factual conclusions and a statement of the reasons which have led them to reach the conclusion which they do on those basic facts. The parties are entitled to be told why they have won or lost. There should be sufficient account of the facts and off the reasoning to enable the EAT or, on further appeal, this court to see whether any question of law arises; and it is highly desirable that the decision of an Industrial Tribunal should give guidance both to employers and trade unions as to practices which should or should not be adopted."

Putting it in a slightly different way, the purpose of the reasons of an Employment Tribunal are to tell the parties, or to make it clear to the parties, so that they know why they lost or why they won.

  1. Mr Bourne submits that the Employment Tribunal had made a number of assertions in paragraph 19 without making relevant findings of fact to explain how the Employment Tribunal reached its conclusion that Mr Mohammed had victimised the Claimant. Essentially that the causation element is missing. Mr Bourne also makes a number of criticisms of what Ms Daniels has called background findings of fact by the Employment Tribunal. Ms Daniels submitted that the Employment Tribunal had made all relevant findings of fact to explain its conclusions in paragraph 19 that the Claimant been victimised because she had brought the second Employment Tribunal application.
  1. It is important, therefore, to focus on paragraph 19. The Tribunal express its conclusion in two ways. Firstly at the beginning of paragraph 19 it says:

"[…] the Tribunal finds that the Respondent subjected the Claimant to a detriment, namely continuing to refuse to allow her to work and earn her wages, because she had brought an Employment Tribunal claim for sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 and had raised a grievance about an unlawful deduction of wages."

Further on in paragraph 19 the Tribunal say this:

"The Tribunal finds that there is sufficient evidence that after the Claimant presented her first ET1 to the Tribunal the Respondent delayed the process of bringing the investigation to a conclusion, while meanwhile the Claimant from June 2011 was receiving no pay or SSP, as she made the Respondent aware. This was victimisation contrary to section 27 Equality Act 2010."

Doing the best we can, we think that the Tribunal's finding is that Mr Mohammed, on behalf of himself and, of course, his firm, the other Respondent, delayed the process of bringing the investigation to a conclusion. The question of pay, or SSP, is a consequence of Mr Mohammed's delay.

  1. We agree with Mr Bourne that on the evidence before the Tribunal, of which we have some including correspondence from Mr Mohammed, that the Employment Tribunal did not make adequate findings of primary fact about those documents which explained the delay from the point of view of Mr Mohammed. Neither did it make any comment upon his oral evidence to the Tribunal. It therefore did not say that a prima facie case of victimisation by Mr Mohammed existed and ask him for an explanation. He did not explain what his explanation was. Finally, and most importantly, it did not say that we reject Mr Mohammed's explanation and find there was victimisation here. At no stage does it seek to evaluate Mr Mohammed's evidence. It does not say really anything other than the fact they found him to be a somewhat hapless solicitor who did not understand the relevant legislation about access to medical records.
  1. If one turns to paragraph 19 again, the Tribunal recite what appear to be contentions. We note the use of the words 'asserted', 'argued' and 'commented' as opposed to 'said in evidence'. The Tribunal recite that Mr Mohammed had had delays in getting access to the medical records and the last records from the Priory Clinic, which carried out the termination, a termination which clearly had a physical as well as a psychological effect on the Claimant. It recited the fact that he had consulted the Priory Clinic in early May 2011 and obtained the names of two consultants but considered that he needed "some background as to your client's medical history on an open and frank basis". The Tribunal record that no attempt was made after August 2011 when the Marie Stopes records were obtained by Mr Mohammed to instruct a consultant when he had had the GP records and the hospital records.
  1. Those are the factual findings of the Tribunal. The conclusion which they draw is in the following sentences:

"The Tribunal finds that there is sufficient evidence that after the Claimant presented her first ET1 to the Tribunal the Respondent delayed the process of bringing the investigation to a conclusion, while meanwhile the Claimant from June 2011 was receiving no pay or SSP, as she made the Respondent aware. This was victimisation contrary to section 27 Equality Act 2010."

There is an absence of reasoning as to why the Tribunal found there was sufficient evidence after 1 April 2011 that the Respondent, Mr Mohammed, delayed the process of bringing the investigation to a conclusion. There is no attempt to deal with the issue of causation at all in paragraph 19. We think that that is an error of law. This decision is Meek defective. Not only, we are told by Mr Bourne, that does his client, Mr Mohammed, not understand why he lost but we do not understand why he lost and, as Bingham LJ made clear, that is a deficiency which amounts to an error of law.

  1. Ground 3 is perversity. It is not a ground which persisted in today with any vigour by Mr Bourne. The test is Yeboah v Crofton [2002] IRLR 634 at paragraphs 92 to 95 per Mummery LJ and that sets a very high hurdle for an appellant to surmount. It is not surmounted in this case.
**Conclusions**
  1. Our conclusion is that the appeal should be allowed on ground 2. The case is remitted to a full hearing before a fresh Employment Tribunal on the usual terms.

Published: 31/01/2013 17:54

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