Sharon Shoesmith ups the stakes

Anyone who thought Sharon Shoesmith was going to go quietly was seriously mistaken. She is throwing everything she can at Haringey council and Ed Balls. As well as an unfair dismissal claim and a judicial review, she has added an allegation of sexual discrimination for good measure. I must confess that my mum saw this one coming before I did. She raised the discrimination question back in December when Haringey appointed Peter Lewis to Sharon Shoesmith’s old job on 50% more pay.

On the face of it, I can’t see this aspect of Ms Shoesmith’s case succeeding. From what has been reported, there is no obvious evidence of gender discrimination in her dismissal. Nevertheless, a sex discrimination claim raises the stakes. There is no cap on compensation in cases of illegal discrimination, so her claim increases the potential award. One should never make predictions but I will be surprised if the sex discrimination claim succeeds and I will be equally surprised if the claim for unfair dismissal fails.

Will Haringey council settle out of court? I don’t see how they can. They must have known when they dismissed Sharon Shoesmith that they were on shaky ground. The decision not to pay her compensation was taken to avoid the negative publicity. To settle out of court now would draw savage attacks from the press and make the original rapid dismissal pointless.

I reckon this one will go to court and possibly to several appeal stages. In the process, the whole sorry saga will be dragged out into the open. More criticism will be thrown at Sharon Shoesmith but she’s had so much of it that it probably can’t do much more damage. Those with most to lose are the government, especially Ed Balls, and Haringey council.

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4 Responses to Sharon Shoesmith ups the stakes

  1. Rick,
    Can you explain to us non-HR people where is the logic in loss of employment claims under RRA or SDA legislation being unlimited, but unfair dismissal claims being limited? I can see the equalities legislation cover much more than just dismissal cases, so there might well be a strong case for not putting arbitrary limits on general claims – but I can’t see why cases of the same nature should be subject to different levels of remedy under different bits of legislation.

    Mind you, I also think the unfair dismissal limit would be much more sensibly expressed as a multiple of annual salary subject to a certain minimum than the current situation as well.

  2. Rick says:

    Charlie, thanks for opening up this can of worms.

    As I understand it, and you will probably relate to this as I think we’re about the same age, it goes back to the left-wing view of the world in the 1970s when this legislation was framed. It was as much about righting past wrongs as ensuring fairness in the workplace. Companies were dominated by racist and sexist white men who had oppressed women and black people for years, therefore they needed to be made to pay double or more if they discriminated on the grounds of race or sex. Or so the story went.

    At least, that is how it was explained to me when I asked the same question.

    It means that if your boss takes against you because you are ugly, fat or northern, for example, (and I’m at risk on all three counts) you can only claim up to the limit. If he takes against you because you are black or female (or, indeed, white or male) you can claim unlimited damages.

    Personally, I think this is all a bit outdated. I think our employment legislation needs an overhaul. I’d favour replacing some of these laws with a general law against bullying or victimisation on whatever grounds. That said, I haven’t really thought through the detail so that suggestion, too, might be full of potential pitfalls.

  3. Well, we’ve seen the various Equality bodies merged into the Human Rights and Equalities Commission so there is some logic in your suggestion.

    But, then again, I don’t think maximum payout for unfair dismissal per se should be so low: by setting it at such a level it actively encourages people to go for a discrimination based case.

  4. Wolfie says:

    Suffice to say Charlie even the very word “unfair” is a tautological minefield that could bog a legal case down for months or even years.

    It remains however a necessity for an employer to be able to legally remove an employee should they fail to perform to an agreed standard for the healthy function of society. It is becoming yet clearer that the current legislation is out-dated when Haringey council find themselves in a pincer movement between public opinion and the law. Then again, this government have elevated “trial by tabloid” into an art form, just sometimes they can’t control the consequences.

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