Woman wins’ tribunal for unfair dismissal from family firm after husband left her for her niece


Woman wins’ tribunal for unfair dismissal from family firm after husband left her for her niece

An Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has ruled a woman who has won claims for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination after a reconsideration of her discrimination claim. She won the claims against her own family-run business after her husband is believed to have been treated more favourably than her after a family feud.


Feltham Management, based in Manchester, were successful in part of their appeal against a sex discrimination claim after they stopped paying one of their female directors but carried on paying her husband. The couple were absent for a long period of time because they were ill, this followed the family dispute where the husband told his wife he was leaving her because he had feeling for her niece, who also worked for Feltham Management.


In December 2017, the EAT upheld the tribunal’s findings in 2016 in the Feltham Management Ltd v Feltham & Ors as the claims were based on its decision on her date of effective termination. However, the appeal judge has remitted the tribunal’s findings of sex discrimination back for reconsideration, stating that they hadn’t addressed the reasons the firm had withheld pay from the claimant but not from her husband.


The claimant, Jane, was absent from Feltham Management for a period of time because of her husband, Mr. Eckersall, and family members were behaving inappropriately at work. When she eventually wanted to return to work, she was told she couldn’t by her family. Jane stated she had not resigned from the family business, however, the firm stated she voluntarily resigned so they stopped paying her and stopped her benefits. The claimant won her claims but Feltham Management appealed.


The firm employed all of Jane’s family members but Mr. Eckersall worked as a self-employed contractor. Jane’s niece, Hazel, also works for the family business as a clerical assistant.


Jane joined the company in 2002 and worked her way up to a company director. She was described as a “valuable and effective” management member, until 15th August 2013 when Eckersall sent Hazel inappropriate Facebook messages and texts and also emailed her asking him to call him. He then later told Jane that he was leaving her for Hazel. Jane accused Hazel of inappropriate conduct with her husband, however, Hazel didn’t accept that she had acted wrongfully.


Jane’s brother, David, told Jane it was all “her fault because she didn’t take Eckersall’s name on marriage, or respect him as head of the house, and undermined him in front of others, and did not welcome him home”. This is why Jane left the business. The tribunal didn’t make findings about Hazel’s behaviour with Eckersall. She had deleted all of their messages and denied any wrongdoing.


Feltham Management stopped paying Jane towards the end of August, however, this wasn’t because her employment was terminated. She was still a director, with a company car and credit card.


In the following month, Jane had told one of her brothers she was going to return to work, but he told her not too. She also apologised to Hazel for shouting at her, but her niece didn’t accept her apology. The tribunal found that Jane had tried to resolve the issues with her family members but none of them would co-operate.


Jane shouldn’t have been penalised in terms of her pay because she was told she couldn’t return to the business until the issues had been sorted out when Jane had attempted to resolve the issue. Her brothers took her absence as her resignation, therefore she shouldn’t be paid from the date she stopped coming into work.


The claimant brought successful claims to the tribunal for sex discrimination and unfair dismissal because she wasn’t paid when she was off ill whereas her husband was. The tribunal also found that she was unfairly dismissed because there wasn’t a justifiable reason as to why she was dismissed.


The ruling stated: “The fundamental question for the employment tribunal was whether the non-payment of the claimant by the company was because of sex”. It was not, of course, necessary for the non-payment to be wholly or mainly because of sex; it was sufficient if this was a significant reason for the treatment, either consciously or unconsciously – in other words, if the non-payment was tainted by the protected characteristic of sex”.


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