‘Any case involving allegations of stress and bullying (especially involving Trust staff) is generally complex, unwelcome and sometimes damaging to many involved in the process - both those making the allegations and the Trust defending them. Such an action is often costly and involves hours of management time, but is sometimes necessary to protect the Trust’s reputation, especially when allegations are unfounded and other methods have failed to resolve the case.  

Such a claim has recently been successfully defended in the High Court at Liverpool in the case of Tracey Boylin -v- The Christie NHS Foundation Trust [2014] EWHC3363, a decision of Mr Justice Parker of 17 October 2014.’

Brief details

The case involved an associate HR director who had given many years of excellent service to the Trust, but following an executive decision to hold a management review, unreasonably and erroneously believed (in the judgment of Mr Justice Parker, who found for the Trust and dismissed her claim) that her position was under threat and she made serious allegations against a private contractor engaged temporarily by the Trust to assist in the management review. None of the many allegations made by the claimant were substantiated. It was admitted from the start that the private contractor had sworn on one occasion and had apologised shortly thereafter. This was described by the judge as a ‘momentary lapse’. The claimant had brought a grievance against the Trust (which was not upheld) and had been dismissed for gross misconduct following disciplinary proceedings.

Regretfully, many hours of preparation were necessary to protect the Trust’s interests as this type of claim inevitably involves much factual evidence. Six witnesses, including the then chief executive and the current interim chief executive, had to give evidence together with a number of the executive team. Two expert consultant psychiatrists also gave evidence. The claimant refused to withdraw her case before trial, which then took over five days in the High Court at Liverpool (with the concomitant need for the necessary witnesses to attend as well as the ex-medical director, now working in London). There then followed a further day of oral submissions and a long wait from July to October 2014 for the judgment.

Publicity

The case inevitably attracted publicity in the Manchester Evening News, some national newspapers and Private Eye. The claimant was supported by a number of patient groups, some of whom attended at the trial. Her claim put forward was for £1.2 million as she alleged that she would never work again because of a severe psychiatric illness which she alleged had been caused by the events at the Trust.

Decision

Mr Justice Parker found for the Trust on all points. He accepted that the private contractor should not have sworn at the claimant, but to put it in context described it as a ‘momentary lapse’ and also found that the Trust had acted with ‘exemplary speed and resolve’ to sort out the position when brought to their attention.

Conclusion

It is sad to see a dispute such as this vented in the public arena, but when other avenues have been investigated it is sometimes necessary to protect a Trust’s working practices and reputation by Court proceedings. We are now recovering costs from the claimant’s insurance backers.

A copy of the full judgment can be found here.