Unfairly Dismissed Golfer Wins Case But Has Award Reduced by 40% Due to Blameworthy Conduct

In Mark Sturgess v Cambridge Country Club Ltd, the employment tribunal held the pro golfer was unfairly dismissed. His compensatory award will be increased by 20% due to his employer’s failure to follow ACAS disciplinary procedures. However, the award will receive a 40% reduction due to “blameworthy conduct”. 

Following the judgment, a remedy hearing has been scheduled to determine the compensation figure. Below, we discuss what happened in the unfair dismissal claim and the judgment made by the employment tribunal.

The Facts in Mark Sturgess v Cambridge Country Club Ltd

Unfairly Dismissed Employee’s Background

Mark Sturgess (“The Claimant”) began working for Cambridge Country Club Ltd (“The Respondent”) in May 2010 as a pro golfer. Among other things, Mr Sturgess ran the club’s shop, conducted golf lessons and repaired golfing equipment. Before the incidents that led to his dismissal, the claimant had a perfect disciplinary record without receiving a single warning.

Grievances Raised Against the Pro Golfer

On 26 April 2022, Ms Clark submitted a written grievance to the respondent. At the time, she was the respondent’s front-of-house manager and alleged Mr Sturgess had made inappropriate comments towards her. She claimed he’d said “she smelt so good he could lick [her] all over” and had twice messaged her late on social media.

Following this, two further complaints were made. On 11 May, Ms Violo-Hitch raised a grievance with the respondent’s general manager, Mr McDonald. She was the respondent’s accounts assistant and complained about inappropriate behaviour from Mr Sturgess. She outlined how the claimant told others of her supposed involvement with club members.

Then, on 12 May, Ms Wilkins complained about the claimant to the respondent. Ms Wilkins was the respondent’s receptionist and alleged Mr Sturgess had sent inappropriate comments to her on Facebook. She also claimed that whilst sitting in the respondent’s bar with her children one evening, the unfairly dismissed employee made inappropriate comments. He sat with club members and allegedly spoke about Jimmy Saville and liking children, making her uncomfortable.

The Claimant is Suspended

Subsequently, Ms Violo-Hitch brought the above allegations to Mr McDonald on 12 May. The pro golfer was suspended from 20 May, with a letter confirming it. Three days later, Mr Sturgess received a further letter from Mr McDonald inviting him to a disciplinary investigation meeting.

This meeting occurred on 24 May, where Mr McDonald outlined the grievances. He highlighted the “lick her all over” comment to Ms Clark, but Mr Sturgess denied saying this. Instead, he recalled stating she looked smart and was “a great ambassador for the company”. He believed Ms Clark’s complaints resulted from a clash of personalities and a poor working relationship.

Then, Mr McDonald put the complaint concerning the ‘Jimmy Saville’ comments to the claimant. Here, Mr Sturgess explained how he and club members had been discussing a Netflix documentary about Jimmy Saville. He added that a member cracked a joke about the topic but emphasised it wasn’t aimed towards a colleague. 

However, upon investigation, Mr McDonald spoke to a different member, Mr Sloman, who was there that evening. Mr Sloman stated that the claimant likened himself to Jimmy Saville in a comment aimed towards Ms Wilkins.

During the investigation meeting, Mr McDonald also asked Mr Sturgess if he’d ever contacted Ms Wilkins outside of work. The claimant confirmed this but explained that following a misunderstanding, he apologised, to which she replied, “No need to apologise”.

Finally, Mr McDonald questioned the claimant concerning allegedly spreading rumours about Ms Violo-Hitch. Mr Sturgess denied spreading such rumours but admitted he was aware of them as others had been discussing the matter.

Mr Sturgess Believes He’s Been Unfairly Dismissed

On 31 May, Mr Sturgess received a letter inviting him to a disciplinary hearing the following day at 3 pm. The letter outlined the allegations against the claimant, including that he’d:

  • “Made unwanted advances of a sexual nature to fellow employees”
  • Commented on a colleague’s likeness to Jimmy Saville

The letter outlined that if the allegations were substantiated, they could amount to gross misconduct, resulting in dismissal without notice. This was the first time Mr Sturgess had been made aware of the allegations against him.

The claimant responded a few hours after receiving this letter, requesting more time to prepare. However, Mr McDonald denied this request, outlining that he’d provided 24 hours’ notice, which complied with the guidance.

During the hearing, Mr Sturgess explained how the date of the ‘Jimmy Saville’ incident was incorrect, making Mr Sloman’s witness statement invalid. However, after going away to deliberate, Mr McDonald wrote to the claimant on 7 June, dismissing him immediately. Referencing the allegations, the respondent explained Mr Sturgess’ conduct amounted to “assault of an indecent nature” and “bullying and harassment”.

Subsequently, the pro golfer appealed the decision on 10 June, which led to an appeals hearing on 16 June. Yet, on 20 June, the claimant learned that his appeal was unsuccessful. As such, Mr Sturgess claimed to an employment tribunal, believing he was unfairly dismissed.

The Employment Tribunal’s Judgment

Concerning whether the claimant had been unfairly dismissed, the tribunal explained they had to consider if the respondent’s actions “fell within the range of reasonable responses”.

Following deliberations, they found this wasn’t the case. The tribunal reasoned that Mr McDonald’s investigation was teeming with mistakes and inconsistencies. Examples included failure to take notes of correspondence with Mr Sturgess and contact witnesses for a thorough investigation.

This was despite stating that Mr McDonald’s findings concerning the late messages to Ms Clark were “based on reasonable grounds”. Therefore, since the investigation was unreasonable, insufficient, and “procedurally unfair”, the tribunal concluded Mr Sturgess had been unfairly dismissed.

Furthermore, following the findings of procedural shortfalls concerning ACAS disciplinary guidance, the tribunal awarded a 20% compensatory uplift. However, because they ruled Mr Sturgess “was guilty of serious misconduct” concerning the messages to Ms Clark, his compensation was reduced by 40%.

Contact us now if you’ve been unfairly dismissed. Redmans Solicitors can discuss your circumstances and uncover your ability to make an unfair dismissal claim.

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