Unfair dismissal claim against horse charity rejected for arriving a day late

Wendy Suddes was dismissed from her post as a regional manager by the British Horse Society and claims the stress she suffered made her unable to cope with applying to the employment tribunal

A former regional manager at the British Horse Society has had her claim for unfair dismissal rejected by an employment tribunal because she submitted it one day too late.

Wendy Suddes was dismissed from her job as the north of England regional manager for the charity at the end of May 2018 and submitted her claim to the employment tribunal on 15 October, one day after the cut-off point.

In a post on her personal Facebook page, Suddes said she believed she had been the victim of "a series of unjust disciplinary actions" culminating in her dismissal after she made a whistleblowing disclosure about the charity.

According to documents released by the tribunal, Suddes told a hearing in Middlesbrough, Teesside, that the stress and anxiety of her treatment and dismissal by the BHS had meant she was unable to cope with the process of applying to the tribunal and had led her to believe mistakenly that she had until 20 October to apply.

The employment judge did not accept this argument, but said in the judgment: "It is abundantly clear to me that the claimant genuinely believes that she is the victim of a grave injustice at the hands of the respondent and that their treatment of her has caused enormous frustration, stress and upset."

The documents said Suddes had been "suspended pending an investigation into her conduct" in March 2018, and stress caused by the issue had led her to become anxious and panicky, and to suffer from headaches and insomnia.

She was reinstated in April 2018, but was signed off sick with stress by a doctor the following month – the day before she was dismissed.

Suddes appealed her dismissal and attempted to resolve the issue through the resolution service Acas. This move was unsuccessful and she was given three months from the end of the Acas process to take the case to the tribunal.

In her statement on Facebook, made before her case was rejected, Suddes wrote that after 17 years of dedicated service she had been treated "appallingly and unfairly" and described her dismissal as "devastating".

"I am a whistleblower," she wrote. "I have subsequently been subjected to a series of unjust disciplinary actions culminating in my dismissal at the beginning of May."

Suddes also told the tribunal she believed she had been harassed by the charity's HR department and subjected to a "constant barrage" that had "cumulatively served to completely undermine my confidence" before her dismissal, according to the court documents.

A spokeswoman for the BHS told Third Sector: "A whistleblowing disclosure from a former member of staff, Wendy Suddes, was made in 2017, which was investigated by an independent organisation and found to be unfounded.

"Following Wendy’s dismissal, and her unsuccessful appeal, she issued proceedings in the employment tribunal. The tribunal accepted that it had no jurisdiction to accept her claims and struck them out."

Lynn Peterson, chief executive of the BHS announced her retirement in March this year after media stories accused the charity of having a "toxic culture" and raised concerns about its financial situation.

In 2018, an investigation by an independent lawyer concluded that, although there were some issues to be addressed, allegations of bullying against Peterson were unwarranted.

A whistleblowing disclosure from a manager in 2017 was investigated by the professional services company PwC, but the complaint was not upheld, the charity said in March.

Suddes did not respond to attempts by Third Sector to contact her.

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