Camden Council chase worker for £10,000 legal fees after failed tribunal claim
Unison said that Town Hall pursued costs to "punish" staff member
10 August, 2017 — By William McLennan
Judge says disability claim was “not without foundation in fact”
CAMDEN’S biggest union claims the Town Hall attempted to “punish” a disgruntled member of staff by trying to make her pay £10,000 in legal fees after her discrimination case was thrown out.
The office worker, who suffered from repetitive strain injury, took the council to an employment tribunal last year claiming she had been discriminated against on the grounds of disability.
A judge ruled at a preliminary hearing that the case could not go ahead as the woman’s condition was not considered a disability under the terms of the Equality Act.
Camden subsequently pursued her for costs arguing she “should have realised that she had no reasonable prospect of success in establishing she was a disabled person”.
But the council’s attempt to force the woman to pay £9,684 was dismissed by an employment judge, Sarah Goodman, who said that her claim was “not without foundation in fact”, adding that she “had some prospect of success in establishing she was a disabled person”.
The judge added: “It is conceivable that the claimant genuinely believed that she had a substantial and long-term repetitive strain disorder of the upper limb”. The woman was represented by Camden Unison and the union said it had been “very concerned upon learning Camden were pursuing costs against our member”.
The union said it is uncommon for employers to be awarded costs even after a claim is dismissed. It is feared that threat of being hit with huge legal bills will deter people with legitimate grievances from seeking justice.
It comes after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison and said that employment tribunal fees for claimants of up to £1,200 were “inconsistent with access to justice”.
The Ministry of Justice said it would take “immediate steps to stop charging fees” after the ruling last month.
A statement from Camden Unison co-chairs Phoebe Watkins and Barry Walden said: “It left our member feeling extremely stressed, concerned about their financial situation and they felt deceived by the council.
“We advised Camden at the time against pursuing such a spurious and vexatious claim which they had no prospect of winning, and also believed it would be a waste of public money at a time of unprecedented cutbacks.
“It appeared to have no justification other than to try to punish a member of staff who had attempted to challenge what they perceived as mistreatment and a performance-related pay scheme which council figures showed was discriminatory.”
Camden Council said in a statement: “The council pursues costs in order to limit the cost to the tax payer of defending legal action brought against the council. Any decision to apply for costs is taken on a case by case basis and only pursued where it is considered that there is sufficient legal justification to do so.”