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Aubrey v Chief Constable of Northumbria Police

One of the biggest and most controversial senior employee discrimination claims in recent years, Aubrey v Chief Constable of Northumbria Police, has come to a close, at least in relation to liability. The Employment Tribunal gave judgment for the Respondent in November 2016, which was confirmed in the Employment Appeal Tribunal in May 2017.

The case is exceptional because of its complexity, the value of damages had Ms Aubrey been successful, and the high reputational stakes for all involved. The successful respondent was represented by Angus Moon QC and Aaron Rathmell of the Serjeants’ Inn employment law team.

The claimant, Ms Aubrey, was a longstanding and high profile Director of Legal Services at Northumbria Police. She brought claims for sex discrimination, disability discrimination, victimisation, unfair dismissal and whistleblowing. She pursued a scintillating legal strategy, putting robust and personal allegations against current and former Chief Constables, which unsurprisingly gave rise to widespread publicity and some lurid headlines last year.

Northumbria Police defended the case on the basis that Ms Aubrey was dismissed for gross misconduct as a result of the inappropriate disclosure of certain confidential information. The Chief Constable subsequently described Ms Aubrey’s allegations against various officers and employees of Northumbria Police as “wholly unacceptable, deeply disappointing and very distressing” to those involved.

The facts underlying Ms Aubrey’s claims were complex and the decision of the ET runs to over 400 paragraphs. Ultimately the Employment Tribunal delivered a judgment comprehensively in favour of the Chief Constable.

An experienced team of solicitors and counsel had been assembled by the Chief Constable to defend the claim, drawing on experience in high value Employment Tribunal claims, as well as medical, disciplinary and police law. The case required a careful cross-examination strategy, systematically putting the hard points to the claimant’s witnesses, without aggression. The “arising from” disability discrimination claim (section 15 of the Equality Act 2010) required particular care, on the law and the facts, informed by expert medical evidence.

One complication in the case, which attracted substantial press coverage, was that the former Chief Constable of Northumbria Police, Mrs Sue Sim, gave evidence on behalf of Ms Aubrey. Mrs Sim had to be cross-examined firmly by counsel for the current Chief Constable and, controversially, one aspect of her evidence was not accepted by the Tribunal.

The claimant’s appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal had been dismissed in November 2016 by Mrs Justice Simler DBE, President, on the basis that there were no reasonable grounds for bringing the appeal. The claimant’s further application pursuant to rule 3(10) of the Employment Appeal Tribunal Rules 1993 was dismissed following an oral hearing, by His Honour Judge Richardson in May 2017. The case continues in relation to the respondent’s application for costs.