Charity that provides accessible books ordered to pay £41,000 to unfairly dismissed employee

A charity that provides accessible books for visually impaired people has been told to pay more than £41,000 to a former employee it unfairly dismissed.

A ruling from London South Employment Tribunal said Seeing Ear should pay £41,475 to Hannah Brew after claims for unfair constructive dismissal and pregnancy- or maternity-related discrimination were upheld.

The decision, published earlier this month, included claims for notice pay and for holiday pay accrued during Brew’s maternity leave.

According to its website, the charity, which runs the National Accessible Library, was set up to help people who want to read but who cannot use ordinary books.

Tribunal documents show Brew resigned from an unspecified role in response to a “fundamental breach of contract” by the charity because “it would not allow her to return from maternity leave on the same terms but instead sought to unilaterally change her contract to full-time, office-based hours”.

In June 2019, the charity attempted to have the pregnancy and constructive dismissal claims struck out, claiming that the complaints were out of time and had no reasonable prospect of success.

But employment judge Adenike Balogun said the charity acted “unreasonably” because “it should have been clear to it that there was no reasonable prospect of the discrimination claim being struck out”.

Seeing Ear was ordered to pay Brew £640 for costs incurred in relation to this hearing.

The subsequent tribunal was concluded in January this year, but the charity asked for the decision to be reconsidered.

The reconsideration documents, published this month, show the application was refused because it was not made within the 14-day limitation period for making such an application.

The charity also claimed it had not been given a chance to state its case due to errors made during the tribunal process; as a result it claimed the decision was a “breach of natural justice”.

During the tribunal process the charity applied to be struck off the companies register in May 2020, but employment judge Paul Housego said that “this was plainly a device to try to defeat the claim”.

Housego said: “It is clear that there have been significant errors made by the tribunal system.

“If these are the cause of the respondent’s [Brew’s] difficulty, or a significant contributor to them, then the interests of justice will require the application to proceed to a hearing, and not be rejected on the basis that there is no reasonable prospect of the judgment being varied or set aside.

“However, they are not the root cause, or a significant factor in this case.”

The charity did not respond to a request for comment before publication of this article.

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