Lambert v The Secretary of State for the Home Department – dismissal of employee was not due to any complaint, but due to “wilful unmanageability”

In the case of Lambert v The Secretary of State for the Home Department UKEAT/0074/16/BA the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) held that the Employment Tribunal had not erred in finding the reason for an employee’s dismissal was not a complaint that she had made but her ‘wilful unmanageability’.

Ms Lambert was employed by the Home Office as a presenting officer, presenting cases on behalf of the Home Office in various tribunals (including the First-Tier Immigration Tribunal). Ms Lambert submitted two complaints on 14 and 16 March 2012, arguing that any failure by the Home Office to allow her request to work at offices in Angel Square for childcare reasons would amount to race discrimination and sex discrimination. Ms Lambert’s request was refused. In the summer of 2012 Ms Lambert’s line manager, Ms Crowe, was finding Ms Lambert difficult to manage. Mr Nickell was therefore appointed to investigate the allegations against Ms Lambert and to produce a report, which he did on 15 February 2013.

On 1 May 2013 Mr Ferguson, who had succeeded Ms Crowe as Ms Lambert’s line manager, held a misconduct meeting with Ms Lambert. Mr Ferguson concluded that Ms Lambert had bullied and harassed colleagues, and that she had sent intimidating emails to colleagues. On the basis of these findings Mr Ferguson imposed a final written warning. Ms Lambert appealed against the final written warning but the  appeal was dismissed on 15 January 2014.

Ms Lambert brought claims for discrimination and victimisation in the Employment Tribunal, arguing (among other things) that she had been subjected to the detriment of the final written warning because of her complaints of discrimination (made in March 2012). The Employment Tribunal rejected Ms Lambert’s claims of discrimination and victimisation and, with respect to the victimisation claim, held that the reason that Ms Lambert had been subjected to a disciplinary process and given the final written warning was not because of the complaints of discrimination that she had made but because of her ‘wilful unmanageability’.

Ms Lambert appealed against the decision of the Employment Tribunal, arguing that the decision misapplied the law and failed to give sufficient reasons.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal, chaired by HHJ Peter Clark, dismissed Ms Lambert’s appeal, holding that the Employment Tribunal had found that the sole reason for the disciplinary proceedings was Ms Lambert’s perceived unmanageability, and that this was therefore not a case were there were ‘mixed motives’. The Employment Appeal Tribunal also held that the Employment Tribunal had sufficiently explained the “reason why” Ms Lambert had been subjected to disciplinary proceedings: the Tribunal had rejected Ms Lambert’s case that her complaints of discrimination were the reason for the disciplinary proceedings and had found that her perceived unmanageability was the reason for such.

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor, commented on the case: “In victimisation cases claimants often struggle to show that the ‘reason why’ they have been subjected to a detriment is a complaint of discrimination rather than an unrelated, benign reason. This was the case in this instance – Ms Lambert failed in her claims because the Tribunal found that the reason for the conduct complained of was unrelated to her complaints.”