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Hopeless employment tribunal claim lands claimant with six figure bill

February 21, 2024

A Senior female partner has been ordered to pay her employer’s legal fees of up to £225,000 after an Employment Tribunal labelled her pregnancy and sex discrimination claims as “hopeless”.

Unlike in the County and High Court, costs orders are generally rare in the Employment Tribunal in the absence of a party’s misconduct.

Greycoat Real Estate LLP said it had incurred in excess of £700,000 in legal fees whilst defending the misconceived claims from Anna Prior, who was the only female partner in the business.

Mrs Prior had claimed some £5 million in compensation after she claimed she had effectively been ousted from the partnership following her pregnancy and maternity leave.  However, the tribunal said that Mrs Prior was not willing to work for the partnership. She was unwilling to engage in discussions about her return to work after she had been offered the opportunity to return to her old position on a full-time basis, or be placed in another partnership role on a part time basis. The partnership then decided to pause her position and not pay her firm profits.

The Claimant made other allegations including that she had been instructed by Nicholas Millican, the firm’s Chief Executive Officer, to persuade a secretary to resign after he had an affair with her, and she had become pregnant.  The tribunal concluded that these allegations, which were denied, were out of time.

The Respondent sought its costs under rules 76 and 78 of the Employment Tribunal Rules of Procedure Regulations 2013, in particular that the claims had no reasonable prospects of success and that the Claimant had acted vexatiously and unreasonably in bringing the claims.

The tribunal took the following into account:

  1. The totality of the evidence and relevant circumstances, including the facts in the Judgment
  2. The facts and value of each claim
  3. Whether the Claimant knew what must be proven at the time she submitted her claims,
  4. The evidence available to her at that time, and thereafter
  5. Whether she could reasonably assess the potential merit of the claim at the outset.

Judge Hodgeson said:

“This is likely to involve at least the following: an identification of the claims; an understanding of what, broadly, must be proven in order for the claims to succeed; an analysis of what was known, or should have been known, to the claimant,- revealed by the oral evidence given, the facts found by the tribunal, and the documentation which would have been available to the claimant at the appropriate time; and a consideration of the reasonableness of her action in bringing, or proceeding with, the claims, including those said to have had no reasonable prospect of success. In addition, it may be appropriate to consider motivation, particularly when vexation is alleged.”

The Judge said that Mrs Prior was in full possession of all relevant facts, and any reasonable consideration at the time the claim was brought should have revealed to the claimant and her advisers that her claim for compensation for the loss of her career was hopeless and had no reasonable prospect of success. Submitting the claims also amounted to unreasonable conduct of the proceedings.

In exercising the tribunal’s discretion to award costs capped at £225,000 following a detailed assessment, the tribunal took into account that Mrs Prior did not provide any evidence of her means to pay the Respondent’s costs.  It therefore concluded she was able to pay its costs.

Helen Murphie, Employment Partner, said:  Whilst costs awards are relatively rare in the employment tribunal, this case is a salutary reminder for claimants (and their advisors) who pursue hopeless claims.  Whilst some may be ignorant of the law, there are others who will persist with hopeless cases in the hope of pressurising, wearing down, or embarrassing their employer into eventually settling their claim out of court.  

An employment tribunal is less likely to make a costs order in cases where a claimant is ignorant of the law, is unrepresented and has little means of payment. Whilst an employment tribunal will generally consider a party’s means to pay a costs award however it does not need to do so.”  

Mrs A Prior v Greycoat Real Estate LLP and Mr N Millican

The material contained in this article is provided for general purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. Appropriate legal advice should be sought for specific circumstances and before action is taken.

© Miller Rosenfalck LLP, February 2024