There are times when an employer needs to take a stand which is exactly what Berry Gardens Limited the UK's largest berry supplier, with an annual turnover of £193 million did in respect of defending unfair dismissal proceedings issued against it by a former employee which it felt was a ‘try on’.
Berry Gardens, who use Thomson Snell & Passmore's Corporate, Commercial and Employment teams for their commercial work, instructed Susanna Gilmartin, Partner in the Employment team to assist them in defending employment tribunal proceedings brought against them by one of their business unit managers for unfair dismissal.
Following a review and business restructuring exercise, Berry Gardens identified that it no longer required a business unit manager position because the work could be absorbed by its key account managers. This created a genuine redundancy situation.
The ex-employee, who was represented by a London firm, lodged a claim in the Ashford Employment Tribunal claiming in essence that the redundancy process was a “sham” and flawed.
In Susanna's opinion, the claim against Berry Gardens lacked legal merit and had no prospects of success. Acting on her advice, the company resisted the claim and all attempts by the other side to settle it. Although it is often tempting to settle claims on a commercial basis because of the cost and management time expended, Berry Gardens felt strongly that this claim was a ‘try on’ to extract additional compensation over and above the redundancy monies that had already been paid and they were not willing to set a precedent for the future.
Susanna identified early on the significant legal weaknesses of the claim and was able to exploit the use of inaccurate and in some instances false evidence being put forward to support the claim to attack the credibility of the case. By concentrating on these weaknesses and applying appropriate cost warnings, Susanna was able to apply sufficient pressure on the other side which resulted in the former employee withdrawing his claim against the Company two weeks before the final hearing. This was an extremely successful outcome for the Company and demonstrates that when appropriate it is important for businesses to take a stand.