Pothecary Witham Weld (a firm) v Bullimore UKEAT/0158/09

In this case the Tribunal had to consider the reference given by Ms Bullimore’s former employer 4 years after she had left which referred to her allegedly poor relations with the partners the fact she had previously brought Tribunal proceedings against the firm and could on occasion be “inflexible as to her opinions”. Her new job offer was withdrawn on receipt of that reference and Ms Bullimore commenced proceedings against PWW (and Mr Hawthorne the author of the reference) claiming that the reference had victimised her. She was successful. PWW and Mr Hawthorne appealed but were unsuccessful. The Tribunal did not accept Mr Hawthorn’s explanation of the way he drafted the reference. PWW was simply unable to prove that it was not significantly influenced by the fact that the former employee had previously brought discrimination proceedings against it when it gave her an unfavourable reference some 4 years later.

Key point: The case is a reminder that liability for victimisation can extend long after the employment has ended. Mr Hawthorne clearly still felt some animosity towards Ms Bullimore. It is rare however for an employer to write such a detailed reference. Employers generally opt to provide a more general one.