Liam Ryan appeared successfully on behalf of the Claimant in a three-day “stress at work” trial heard at the Manchester County Court before Recorder Berkley QC between the 23rd and 25th August 2021.
The claim involved allegations that the Claimant, a Law and LPC graduate, who joined the Defendant (a well-known national law firm) as a paralegal on the 30th March 2015 was harassed and bullied by her supervisor, between April 2015 and the 16th July 2015.
The Claimant’s case was based on the fact that her supervisor had favourites, would treat her differently and seek through his management of her to undermine, humiliate and distress her. For example, he would often criticise, humiliate, and embarrass her in front of her colleagues, calling into question her qualifications, aptitude, and intelligence. There was evidence called and heard that indicated previous issues about the supervisor’s management style had been raised prior to the Claimant joining the Defendant on the 17th March 2015. The Claimant who was in the probationary period of her employment, raised complaints about her supervisor on the 19th May and the 16th July 2015 to a Mr Millen (Partner of the Defendant). However, on the 17th July 2015, the Claimant’s contract of employment was terminated on the basis that she wasn’t meeting the required level of performance.
In finding for the Claimant, Recorder Berkley QC held that:
“The Claimant said it’s not just what he said, it’s how he said it. The Claimant reported … [Her supervisor] shouted at her, abused her, and used her as an object to vent on, and criticised her in front of the team and did so smiling and smirking. These are not objective criticisms to help the Claimant. That’s behaviour in my judgment that is unacceptable in the workplace. … My conclusions having listened to the evidence is he was deliberate, calculated, and cruel. Therefore, it follows that since the conduct occurred that the claim based on the statutory tort made out is established”.
The case is of some importance to practitioners since it reinforces that a Court should and will consider all of the evidence before it, in order to arrive at informed and objective conclusions. The Court emphasised the need to consider not only what was said, but how things were said. The decision to class the supervisor’s conducts as “calculated and cruel” was correct and grounded in this principle. The claim demonstrates not only the importance and requirement for a full and proper analysis of the evidence by the Court, but that the Court can, and should, apply a degree of understanding and empathy as to how witness evidence is to be interpreted.
It stands as an example for employers that when considering such complaints, there needs to be an analysis and assessment of the nature of complaints raised in an objective manner, and not one designed to exculpate an employer or to diminish the conduct complained of to such a level that it can be seen as trivial.
For litigants, it demonstrates that a dogmatic approach to the interpretation of evidence is not what the authorities require a Court to do, and an acknowledgement that all such cases, ultimately, turn on their own facts. It reinforces that when considering witness evidence, it is good practice to apply objective reasoning, life experience and awareness of its overall effect and nature in the context of a claim before deciding its merit.
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