Hello again and welcome back to our case of the week. Last week we had our monthly newsletter for October 2023, where we looked at Freddie Flintoff’s settlement with the BBC and employers aiming to be more inclusive to reflect equality and diversity in their recruitment processes. In our lighter side of the news, we covered stories of a banker getting the sack for claiming expenses after doubling up on sandwiches and creative prankster, Oobah Butler, taking on Amazon. Those that missed it can find it here. This week we’re looking at an RAF lawyer bringing a claim against the Ministry of Defence for victimisation.

Commissioned officer and solicitor, Allan Steele, served in the RAF’s legal branch for almost 17 years, when he started to believe there were conspiracies against him. He complained about the unfair treatment of some of the RAF officers, who perceived him as disruptive, which in turn fuelled his belief.

Mr Steele raised allegations that he was bullied while working at RAF Coningsby and he was put through a Major Administrative Action Process (“MAAP”) initially designed to post him to a new location. Mr Steele was also offered a temporary move after he first raised the allegation of bullying. The MAAP made no reference to a deployment or detachment without prejudice (DWP) and the MAAP provided for action to be taken “where personnel have demonstrated professional or personal failings”. The MAAP also went on to say, “it should be applied to deal with serious failings or standards of behaviour or performance that have fallen below that which is expected of a member of the RAF”. However, Mr Steele had always been regarded as a high performing and diligent officer and solicitor.

A decision was made to terminate Mr Steele’s employment based on his unsuitability for further employment in the legal branch, a breakdown in trust, his reaction to appeals and inability to transfer to another branch. Mr Steele’s values and conduct were said not to be in line with a senior officer in the RAF and he had lost his trust and confidence in it.

Mr Steele brought claims against the MOD for harassment, victimisation and discrimination on the grounds of sex, race and religion on the basis of his male, Scottish and Christian protected characteristics.

The respondent MOD denied all claims of direct discrimination, harassment and victimisation and Mr Steele withdrew all complaints, save for his victimisation claim relating to his dismissal from the RAF.

Mr Steele’s protected acts were 1) submitting a service complaint and 2) issuing a claim at the Employment Tribunal. The question for the Tribunal was whether Mr Steele was subjected to detrimental treatment which led to his termination of commission by the Air Force Board.

The Employment Tribunal found Mr Steele had been dismissed because of the ‘disruption’ his complaints of discrimination and victimisation caused, which amounted to victimisation in breach of s27 Equality Act.

The Tribunal was concerned that the director of legal services who was experienced in legal and human resources, failed to recognise Mr Steele’s protected acts and that they knew enough of his claims not to subject him to less favourable treatment.

The Tribunal also found the conduct of one officer met the threshold of bullying and his behaviour was offensive, intimidating, insulting and unwanted by Mr Steele. He had made two protected acts that were so serious that the respondent wanted to rid itself of him and he was perceived to have gone too far in challenging senior officers and colleagues. The protected acts were at the core of the perceived disruption and they were the real reason for the detriment.

The Tribunal was astounded that the respondent never made it clear to Mr Steele when discussing his options, that his reluctance or perceived refusal to work with any individual could lead to his dismissal. During the hearing Mr Steele said that if he knew he was going to lose his career he would have withdrawn all of his complaints. The Tribunal found Mr Steele was oblivious to the disruption his complaints caused because he was too preoccupied with a sense of injustice that he needed to bring to his employer’s attention, which he naively believed senior ranks of the RAF would sort out.

Takeaway Points

The way a grievance is treated by an employer is important, as S27 of the Equality Act, aims to protect workers who bring complaints of discrimination, or proceedings aimed at enforcing compliance for equal treatment.

If you or someone you know are dealing with any of the issues mentioned above, please contact a member of our team who will be able to assist.