Northern Ireland

Court rules New Look manager 'provoked' into resigning

Bosses at high street retailer New Look "manipulated" a store manager into resigning on her return from maternity leave, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Judges held that Terry Rooney-Telford was misinformed about some requirements and entitlements at the Downpatrick branch of the store.

They quashed an industrial tribunal finding that there was no intention to dismiss Ms Rooney-Telford.

A new hearing of the case was ordered which will assess any compensation.

Mr Justice Hart stated: "This was a contrived set of circumstances manipulated by the respondent in order to provoke the appellant into resigning on the basis of a materially incorrect state of affairs represented to her in relation to an exceptionally important part of her working conditions.

"The only conclusion, which the majority of the tribunal could have drawn from the facts they found, was that that appellant was dismissed because she was manipulated into resigning."

The County Down woman, who was not in court for the verdict, was challenging an industrial tribunal decision that it had no jurisdiction to deal with her claims.

Maternity leave

Her case against New Look Retailers Ltd centred on whether she was deliberately manoeuvred during a meeting into resigning.

Ms Rooney-Telford's lawyers argued that the tribunal's finding was perverse because there had been an intention to dismiss her.

She began working for for the company as a store manager in February 2008.

Later that year she took 12 months maternity leave to have her second child, coming back again in November 2009.

She was asked to attend a return to work interview, also attended by her line manager and human resources manager.

The court heard that she was told she would now have to open the store at 7am every weekday, as opposed to the one or two early mornings before she took maternity leave.

Mr Justice Hart pointed out that, despite her line manager being aware Ms Rooney-Telford would in fact have the same requirements as before, and was being given incorrect information, the tribunal found that she did not intervene to correct the misapprehension.

It also found that no reminder was given of an employment provision which allowed her to apply for flexible working hours.

Ms Rooney-Telford was then asked by the human resources manager if she wanted to resign, handed a piece of paper and told what to write, the court heard.

Counsel for New Look Retailers accepted that the situation could be viewed as insensitive and badly handled.

Contrived

He contended, however, that the tribunal had, by a majority decision, found no credible evidence of an intention to dismiss her.

But delivering judgment alongside Lord Justice Coghlin and Sir John Sheil, Mr Justice Hart said the only proper inference was that Ms Rooney-Telford had been provoked into resigning by a deliberately contrived set of circumstances.

The judge stated that she was led to believe she would have to start work at 7am every day.

"This was of vital importance to the appellant who now had two children, and who, not unsurprisingly, stated that she could not manage to fulfil such an obligation in view of her childcare commitments," he said.

"Nevertheless, notwithstanding that the respondent therefore knew that the appellant could not work such hours, a decision was made by (her line manager) not to intervene to tell the appellant that she would only be required to start early one or two days a week on average."

Mr Justice Hart noted that in a handwritten record of the meeting, after Ms Rooney-Telford says she could not do these hours, and that a position as a part-time deputy manager would not suit her, the human resource manager said: "So are you saying you have to resign?"

She is recorded as replying "Yes."

He concluded that the majority of the tribunal erred in law by making a perverse finding that there was no intention to dismiss her.

"We allow the appeal to quash the decision of the tribunal. We remit the matter to a differently constituted tribunal to consider the appellant's case in light of this court's decision, and to assess any compensation that may be due to the appellant in the light of such aspects of her claim as have not yet been considered by an industrial tribunal."