Employment Appeal Tribunal rules that award of £14,000 for sexual harassment not excessive

In the case of AA Solicitors Ltd (T/A AA Solicitors) & Anor v Majid UKEAT/0217/15/JOJ the Employment Appeal Tribunal considered whether an award of £14,000 for sexual harassment and sex discrimination was excessive.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that the award of £14,000 as not excessive – the Respondent had violated the Claimant’s dignity as a worker by sexually harassing her and that there was no error of law by the Tribunal in awarding the compensation that it had.

The factual background of AA Solicitors Ltd (T/A AA Solicitors) & Anor v Majid

In early 2013 Miss Majid (the Claimant) sought work as a paralegal at AA Solicitors Limited (t/a AA Solicitors), a firm of solicitors in Bolton. Mr Ali was at the relevant times the sole solicitor working at AA Solicitors.

Miss Majid met with Mr Ali on 24 April 2013 at the offices of AA Solicitors and then began working for the firm. However, Miss Majid was subsequently made redundant in May 2013, about six weeks after she had started employment, and brought claims for sexual harassment and sex discrimination against AA Solicitors. Miss Majid alleged in her claim that she had been subjected to 40 or more acts of sexual harassment from Mr Ali, including Mr Ali asking her to go to the cinema with him, Mr Ali installing a bed in one of the rooms of the office, Mr Ali attempt to hug her and touching her arms, among other things. Miss Majid’s case was that these actions on Mr Ali’s part had made her feel uncomfortable.

The Employment Tribunal’s decision

The case came to the Manchester Employment Tribunal in or around early 2014, with the Employment Tribunal finding in Miss Majid’s favour in her claims for sexual harassment and sex discrimination, awarding her a total of £20,221.42, comprised of the following: £14,000 for injury to feelings, aggravated damages of £4,000, loss of earnings of £2,111.40, and interest totalling £110.02. The Employment Tribunal also ordered that Mr Ali attend an equal opportunities training for solicitors’ course (including sexual harassment).

Among other findings, the Employment Tribunal held that Miss Majid’s selection for redundancy was not on genuine grounds – there were no concerns raised prior to her dismissal about the quality of work her work or performance, and there was another candidate for redundancy who had had less qualifications and less experience than Miss Majid. The Employment Tribunal also held that Mr Ali had held a high degree of control and responsibility over employees in the workplace and Miss Majid had been vulnerable because she was inexperienced and at the start of her career.

AA Solicitors and Mr Ali appealed against the award made for injury to feelings, arguing that Mr Ali’s behaviour was “gauche and insinuating rather than aggressive” and that the award made was therefore excessively high. It also appealed on the basis that there appeared to have been a ‘disconnect’ between the level of compensation awarded in Employment Tribunal claims for injury to feelings and awards for similar injuries in personal injury claims, which tended to be lower.

The decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal

The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that there was no error of law by the Employment Tribunal in awarding Miss Majid £14,000 for injury to feelings. The Appellants (Mr Ali and AA Solicitors) had accepted that the award made was in the correct ‘Vento’ band (the middle band for ‘serious’ acts of harassment or discrimination) and that the award was not manifestly excessive – the award made had not been at the low or high point of the band but squarely in the middle, and it was therefore entirely permissible for the Tribunal to award such a level of compensation. Further, the EAT found the analogy between personal injury claims and Employment Tribunal claims was unhelpful, as the ‘Vento’ guidelines were bespoke guidance tailored to the jurisdiction of the Employment Tribunal.

Why is this case important?

This case is important as it shows that it an appeal against an award of compensation by the Employment Tribunal (or a judgment on liability, if that is being appealed) must be based on a point of law – in cases regarding an appeal on remedy, this would normally involve an excessively high or low award, or the awarding or failure to award a particular type of remedy.

Chris Hadrill, head of the employment department at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers should take reasonably practicable steps to ensure that staff in the workplace are not subjected to harassment and that, should a complaint of harassment be submitted, appropriate, thorough, and prompt steps are taken to investigate and, if necessary, punish any harassment. A failure to take such steps could lead to potentially high levels of compensation being awarded, as in this case.”