WRC challenged over handling of complaint of unfair dismissal from Arthur Cox
Posted on 20th October 2021 at 21:22
Initial case was halted following significant Supreme Court decision
A High Court judge is hearing an action by a solicitor over the handling by a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer of her complaint she was unfairly dismissed by law firm Arthur Cox.
Ammi Burke brought the proceedings after an adjudication officer halted her case in the wake of a significant Supreme Court decision in April that had implications for WRC procedures.
Adjudication officer Marie Flynn recused herself from the action and said Ms Burke’s case would need to be heard by a different officer.
The Supreme Court’s Zalewski decision held that the exercise of powers by WRC adjudication officers was an administration of justice, with two sections of the Workplace Relations Act found to be incompatible with the Constitution. The court ruled there was no justification for a blanket ban on private hearings before adjudication officers and it highlighted the importance of giving evidence on oath to incentivise truthful testimony.
The WRC published new guidelines on its website to reflect its practice changes in response to the judgment. It updated these guidelines a month later with further detail relating to part-heard cases, stating some evidence “may need to be heard afresh, on oath or affirmation”.
Ms Burke, from Castlebar, Co Mayo, representing herself, told the court on Wednesday the adjudication officer should not have halted her case and should have ordered Arthur Cox to disclose emails which she says, are “critical” to her action. She said her firing from Arthur Cox on November 12th, 2019, came without warning.
Ms Burke said she was prevented from returning to her office to collect her personal belongings, was handed her bag and coat by another colleague and directed to leave the building under threat of calling security.
She claims Arthur Cox gave no reasons for the dismissal other than a breakdown in the relationship with her. That explanation is a “fabrication” and “groundless”, she claims.
During the hearing, Ms Burke referred to several positive appraisals of her work during her three years at the firm.
Ms Burke alleged the adjudication officer’s decision not to direct disclosure of the emails was unreasonable and unjust, and claimed her actions favoured Arthur Cox.
Decision must apply
Opposing the action, Catherine Donnelly SC, for the WRC, said the Zalewski decision must apply to ongoing part-heard cases.
It was “unusual” for someone to object to their proceedings being heard in line with the Constitution, counsel said. She also argued Ms Burke was “incorrect” to imply a link between her case and the WRC’s updated guidance.
There could be a concern of prejudgement if an adjudication officer has part-heard evidence, and it is appropriate that a new hearing would involve a new officer, Ms Donnelly said.
On behalf of Arthur Cox, a notice party to the case, Peter Ward SC said Ms Burke has shown a “propensity to accuse anyone and everyone of lying” and had “effectively laid out a conspiracy theory” in claiming the WRC altered guidelines in reaction to her case.
Mr Ward said Ms Burke and some members of her family had “obstructed” the WRC hearing to such an extent Ms Flynn could not hear other evidence being given. Ms Burke and some family members treated the adjudication officer “appallingly” during the proceedings, he also said.
While the firm is also inconvenienced by the requirement for the case to restart, Ms Flynn’s decision was “lawful and correct”, counsel said.
In reply, Ms Burke denied fabrication and said: “I’m the one party that has raised facts.”
The case resumes on Tuesday.
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