Employment Tribunal Treated Psychotic Litigant Unfairly

A litigant who was in the grip of a psychotic episode when he turned up an hour late to an Employment Tribunal (ET) hearing – only to discover that his claim had been struck out in his absence – has been given fresh hope of compensation (U v Butler & Wilson Limited).

The man had worked for five years as a fashion company's e-commerce manager before his employment was terminated in hotly disputed circumstances. He claimed to have suffered discrimination on the basis of his sex, disability, sexual orientation and age; however, the company insisted that he had voluntarily resigned and that he had been treated with compassion and empathy during a difficult time.

When the man did not appear at the start of the ET hearing, the case proceeded in his absence and the entirety of his claim was struck out for his failure to comply with case management directions. On his late arrival, he was showing clear signs of psychiatric disturbance; however, the ET declined to go back on its decision.

In allowing the man's appeal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) noted that he had been 'plainly unwell' when he arrived at the hearing. The ET was 'obviously wrong' not to grant him a brief adjournment to give him a chance to recover and gather his thoughts. He should also have been informed that he did not have to press ahead with his application immediately but could do so in writing at a later date.

The EAT's decision has opened the way for the man to seek a fresh review of the strike-out decision.

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