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EAT rules that a constructive dismissal can constitute an act of discriminatory harassment

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Ms M Driscoll v Varela, Ms Driscoll was employed as an executive assistant by V & P Global Ltd, a legal recruitment consultancy. She worked closely with Mr Varela, the founder and chief executive of the consultancy. Ms Driscoll asserts that, on various occasions in the course of her employment, Mr Varela made comments which constituted harassment related to sex, race or disability, contrary to section 26 of the Equality Act; that she was victimised by him, after her employment had ended; and that the consultancy was in breach of its duty to provide written particulars of employment.

On her last day in the office, Ms Driscoll had sent Mr Varela an email with handover instructions for new starters due to join while she was going to be on annual leave. Mr Varela had responded by shouting at her and accusing her of putting in the wrong dates. She believed the aggressive reaction

was due to her sex and her previous objections to his conduct. This had been the last straw for her, and she resigned the same day.

She subsequently brought various claims of discrimination, but the employment tribunal dismissed her claim of harassment that related to her constructive dismissal. Ms Driscoll appealed to the EAT, which allowed her appeal.

Where an employee resigns in response to discriminatory harassment, the constructive dismissal itself is capable of constituting “unwanted conduct” amounting to an act of harassment.

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