MHA | Employment Law Case: Rootes v Edward Harte Solicitors

Employment Law Case: Rootes v Edward Harte Solicitors

Joanna Rose · June 15th 2023 · read

Rootes v Edward Harte Solicitors

In Rootes v Edward Harte Solicitors, the employment tribunal held that a legal secretary who made homophobic comments was unfairly dismissed.

Ms Rootes was employed by the law firm from 2003. Her employer had occasion to speak to her several times about her conduct towards one of its partners who was a lesbian. In 2013, she was given a written warning for making a racist remark.

In June 2021, the firm’s receptionist told a WhatsApp work group chat that Ms Rootes had told her "she will never speak to a lesbian because it's a deadly sin…and she is okay with gay men but not gay women". In September 2021, the receptionist raised a complaint citing a number of offensive discriminatory comments made by Ms Rootes. Following an investigation, Ms Rootes was suspended and invited to a disciplinary hearing in respect of allegations relating to derogatory, racist and homophobic conduct. She was summarily dismissed.

After appealing unsuccessfully, Ms Rootes brought a claim for unfair dismissal claim in the employment tribunal.

The tribunal found that she had made homophobic remarks and they agreed that this constituted gross misconduct. It found, however, that there was insufficient evidence to support all the allegations and that the employer had relied too heavily on the historic incidents rather than focusing on the 2021 allegations. It also found the dismissal to be unfair based on the firm's conclusion that Ms Rootes’ claim not to remember her remarks from several years ago was dishonest.

The tribunal did conclude that the compensation awarded should be reduced by 75% for contributory fault due to the fact that Ms Rootes had shared unpleasant and personal homophobic views.

This case highlights the importance of following a fair disciplinary procedure, particularly when seeking to dismiss for gross misconduct. Even where a fair reason is established, a dismissal may be unfair if there are procedural irregularities. HR Solutions can advise you on how to conduct a fair procedure and so minimise claims for unfair dismissal.

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