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Solicitor loses victimisation and discrimination claims after being suspended over heated WhatsApp conversation

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Mr M Gaskell v Ministry of Justice Mr Gaskell is a solicitor who worked in the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) since 1985. He was suspended by the LAA after a heated WhatsApp exchange with colleagues. Mark Gaskell had threatened to send a hard copy of the WhatsApp transcript to the Law Society after bosses at the LAA began a formal investigation following complaints from colleagues.

He was suspended from work in May 2020 after being told the working relationship had broken down and there was reasonable suspicion of a risk to Ministry of Justice property and/or reputation. His sanction was later reduced to a final written warning and then a first written warning on the basis that Gaskell did not actually disclose any information to the Law Society.

Gaskell brought employment claims for victimisation, discrimination and failure to make reasonable adjustments for his health condition, as well as claims for indirect age discrimination over an earlier appointment of a colleague to a senior post.

Following a 12-day hearing in February at Leeds, Employment Judge Shepherd said the unanimous judgment of the tribunal was that all Gaskell’s claims should be dismissed.

The judge said Gaskell’s threat to share information with the Law Society was ‘conduct capable of amounting to gross misconduct. The claimant’s behaviour was a major concern to the [LAA],’ said the judge. ‘The disciplinary proceedings were not disproportionate and the tribunal is satisfied that they were not influenced by the fact that the claimant had brought the first and/or second claim.’

The judge said Gaskell ‘has a tendency to fly off the handle and make coruscating comments about people in person and in aggressive and disparaging correspondence’.

The judge added: ‘The claimant has not established, on the balance of probabilities, facts from which the tribunal could conclude that the respondent had discriminated against him and, if he had, the respondent has shown non-discriminatory reason for the claimant’s treatment. This was because of the claimant’s conduct.’

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