Fixed-term employee loses claim after Employment Tribunal finds she was bound by settlement agreement (Ms C Francis v The Priory Federation of Academies)

In the case of Ms C Francis v The Priory Federation of Academies 2602678/2021 a fixed-term employee was unsuccessful in her claim for automatic unfair dismissal, based on a grievance she raised. She claimed that she was subject to a detriment due to making a protected disclosure under the Employment Rights Act 1976, which she argued invalidated the ACAS COT3 settlement she had signed.

The Facts in Ms C Francis v The Priory Federation of Academies

Ms C Francis (the “Claimant”) began working with The Priory Federation of Academies (the “Respondent”) on 4 January 2021 at the Priory Ruskin Academy school (part of the Respondent’s academy federation). She was employed as a Student Support Assistant (SSI) dealing with PP issues (Pupil Premium). She was employed on a fixed-term contract due to end on 31 August 2021.

The Claimant argued that during her employment she had:

  • been subject to a detriment due to making a protected disclosure
  • been subject to misrepresentation when agreeing to a negotiated COT3 settlement

On 29 May 2021, the Academy advertised for SSIs with a closing date of 14 June 2021. The Claimant did not apply for any of these posts. On 20 June 2021, the Claimant raised a grievance (details not provided) with the Respondent.

The Claimant began Early Conciliation (EC) with ACAS, on 20 July 2021. This was to reach a settlement with the Respondent following her grievance being unsuccessful.

On 31 August 2021, her role came to an end due to the expiry of her contract. The Claimant reached an agreement, on 2 September 2021, via an ACAS COT3 settlement with the Employer. She was paid £3,000 in compensation. On 6 September 2021, the Respondent advertised for two temporary SSI roles and the claimant applied for one of them.

On 21 September 2021, the Respondent informed the Claimant that her application was not being taken forward due to not meeting the “key relationships” requirement for the role.  The Claimant commenced a claim at Nottingham Employment Tribunal for automatic unfair dismissal arguing she had suffered a detriment for making a protected disclosure and misrepresentation.

The Decision of the Employment Tribunal

The Employment Tribunal dismissed the Claimant’s claim that she had been induced into signing the COT3 settlement agreement by a false statement of fact.  They found that the agreement remained valid and binding on the Claimant.

In their deliberations, the tribunal analysed the evidence of the Claimant and its credibility. The Claimant’s argument that she had signed the COT3 based on a false representation i.e., that there were no job opportunities available to her towards the end of August, was dismissed. There was no evidence she had been prevented from applying for any of these posts by the Respondent.

The tribunal saw no evidence to uphold any decision to overturn the COT3. They found the wording in the document clear and unambiguous. This is particularly in relation to bringing any current or future claims, that the claimant accepted and received compensation for. 

Our Lawyers’ views

Steve Norton, a lawyer at Redmans, says – This is also a good example of how difficult it is to argue misrepresentation where, as in this case, the tribunal found that the language used in the COT3 settlement agreement was clear and unambiguous in its meaning when applying the objective reasonableness test to the relevant clauses.

The Decision of the Employment Tribunal in Ms C Francis v The Priory Federation of Academies 2602678/2021 can be found here