An employment judge has cleared Maccreanor Lavington of claims of unfair dismissal brought by the firm’s ex-director but warned its bosses to ‘urgently’ address working practices
Ann Griffin took the London-based practice to an employment tribunal claiming she was made to feel compelled to resign from her role as director of social infrastructure in July 2016.
Griffin, who suffers from a degenerative eye condition as well as anxiety and depression, told a hearing in May that the practice had also treated her ‘less favourably than it would do so to others because of her disabilities’.
But in a reserved judgement, the tribunal yesterday cleared the practice of unfair dismissal and disability discrimination, deciding Griffin’s claims were ‘not well founded’.
However, the judge, Anthony Snelson, did rule in Griffin’s favour for her claim over non-payment of holiday pay and the practice was ordered to pay her £2,952 for the ‘unauthorised deduction of wages’.
Snelson also rapped the directors of Maccreanor Lavington for showing a ‘disturbing ignorance of their responsibilities as employers’ and issued a warning for the firm to ‘change that state of affairs’.
Maccreanor Lavington hired Griffin, who was previously co-director of Meadowcroft Griffin Architects, in March 2013 when her practice disbanded, as the AJ100 firm sought to diversify its operations.
Maccreanor Lavington would be wise to regard the outcome as a fortunate one
The claims of unfair dismissal centred on a meeting held between Griffin and the firm’s directors Richard Lavington and Gerard Maccreanor on 6 July 2016, in which she was told things had ‘not worked out’.
At the tribunal, Griffin argued that this meeting was improper because it occurred outside of the redundancy process that was taking place at the firm in the wake of the Brexit referendum.
But the judge argued that the directors’ aim in the 6 July meeting was to communicate a strategic decision which put her at risk of redundancy and ’make her an offer of substantial compensation’.
Addressing the second claim of disability discrimination, the judge said there was nothing in the material ‘pointing to prejudice on the part of the directors against disability or disabled employees’.
The judge said that it became apparent during the hearing that Griffin’s ‘true complaint’ was discrimination arising from disability rather than direct discrimination.
Complaints of direct discrimination ’seldom succeed’, the judge pointed out, as they require an unusual finding that the act in question was motivated by some form of prejudice against disability itself.
The tribunal also rejected Griffin’s claim that the practice’s decision to focus on housing instead of social infrastructure was ‘irrational’.
’We see no reason to doubt that their evidence that, faced with what they saw as threatening times following the Brexit vote, they concluded that the safest strategy was to retrench and focus on that category of work,’ the decision reads.
In his ruling, Snelson warned Maccreanor Lavington ‘they would be wise to regard the outcome as a fortunate one’.
He said: ‘If they do not act urgently to change that state of affairs and introduce working practices which reflect their legal obligations, they must expect to renew their acquaintance with the tribunal before long, quite possibly with considerably more uncomfortable and expensive consequences than here.’
Speaking following the decision, Griffin said she was glad to have won her claim for unlawful withholding of salary.
‘I lost on the technicalities of the incorrect type of discrimination case being filed for me at there start, resulting in evidence being shoehorned into a direct discrimination claim when my case was actually discrimination arising from disability,’ she said.
She added that the architecture profession had to work harder to remove the stigma surrounding mental health. ‘Anxiety, depression and stress are endemic but largely hidden in architecture.
‘We need to develop better working practices based on wellbeing and collaboration, to reduce this problem and to support everyone in the workplace, particularly when vulnerable.’
A spokesperson for Maccreanor Lavington said:’[We] are pleased the tribunal is now over. We hope all parties can now move on and we wish Ann the best for her future. As an employer and business we have always sought to be fair and equitable and will reflect and learn from this experience.
’Job losses are never something that a practice wants to experience and we had hoped to secure a mutually agreeable outcome but this unfortunately failed.’