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          Failure to respond to a claim a costly mistake

          In Werner v University of Southampton, in the absence of a response by the Respondent,the Employment Tribunal found in the Claimant's favour in respect of claims including wrongful dismissal, unfair dismissal, harassment and discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, leading to an award of over £3.5 million being made.

          Date: 28/06/2019

          Background

          Mr Werner, a professor at the University of Southampton, claimed he had been subjected to harassment and discrimination due to being German and a Christian during his 14 years' of working for the University.

          Mr Werner stated he had been subjected to a campaign of bullying and harassment after he raised concerns regarding the University's processes and suggested improvements. An example put forward by Mr Werner was the alleged repeated refusals to grant him sabbatical leave so that he could finish writing a book. Mr Werner argues that sabbatical leave had been granted to his colleagues in similar circumstances.

          In addition, Mr Werner informed how he had been refused holiday pay as a result of discrimination which had impacted upon his promotion opportunities.

          The Respondent did not provide a response to the claim issued by Mr Werner and did not attend the hearing at Southampton Employment Tribunal. Employment Judge Emerton (sitting alone) considered the Claimant's claim and in the absence of any response from the University of Southampton, awarded the Claimant £3.4 million inclusive of interest and an uplift of 25% for failure to follow the ACAS Code of Practice. EJ Emerton informed Mr Werner that the University's failure to respond to his claim had been to Mr Werner's advantage and recognised that had the University attended, it would have been likely that Mr Werner would have received a considerably lesser award as his claims would have been defended.

          It is understood that the University of Southampton is conducting its own investigations as to the non-attendance to defend their position at Tribunal and will be appealing the decision to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

           

          Comment

          This case highlights the critical importance of ensuring all dates for compliance with Tribunal directions are noted and adhered to. A clear internal process on how to deal with claims once notified should be adopted and followed to ensure adequate time is available to prepare and file a response to such claim.

          Related people

          Joanne Frew

          • Partner // Head of Employment (Manchester)