In the case of Mrs M Richards v Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust the Employment Tribunal held that the Claimant could not bring a second discrimination claim against her previous employer as the settlement agreement she had signed precluded her from doing so.
The facts in Mrs M Richards v Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust
Mrs Richards commenced employment with Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust (“the Trust”) as a Counsellor in July 2006, working at Victoria Hospital in Swindon. Mrs Richards had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and there was medical evidence to support such a diagnosis.
In 2007 Mrs Richards issued an Employment Tribunal claim in which she raised complaints of constructive unfair dismissal and (after an amendment of claim) disability discrimination.
On 4 June 2007 COT3 settlement agreement terms were agreed, under which the sum of £12,000 was to be paid by the Trust and Mrs Richards was to withdraw her claim. The COT3 settlement agreement also specified that the settlement covered “all and any claims which the Claimant has or may have against the Respondent”, including claims under the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Disability Discrimination Act; the settlement agreement also stated that it applied to, but was not limited to, those claims which had been brought within the proceedings. The claim was then withdrawn but not formally dismissed by the Employment Tribunal. At the time of the settlement agreement Mrs Richards was represented by a solicitor.
Soon after the claim was withdrawn (but not dismissed) Mrs Richards wrote to the Employment Tribunal to complain that she had made a mistake when the agreement was finalized. On 29 December 2007 Mrs Richards wrote to the Tribunal to complain that she believed that she had been tricked into the agreement and/or that she had been coerced in signing it; she alleged that she had not had capacity at the time to enter into the agreement. A preliminary hearing was listed to determine Mrs Richards’ application to challenge the validity of the settlement agreement.
Mrs Richards did not attend the preliminary hearing listed and her application was dismissed by way of a reasoned Judgment dated 28 May 2009 – the Employment Judge found that Mrs Richards had been advised and represented by a solicitor during the settlement process and that the first settlement offer had been put forward by her. The allegations that she had made regarding her being subjected to duress/fraud/misrepresentation to complete the settlement agreement were rejected, and the Tribunal found there was no evidence to support her claim that she lacked the requisite capacity to complete the agreement. Mrs Richards did not appeal that decision, nor did she seek to have it reviewed or reconsidered.
On 2 May 2016 Mrs Richards issued a further claim against the Trust, alleging that she had been unfairly dismissed and subjected to discrimination arising from disability. Mrs Richards alleged in the claim form that she had not achieved adequate redress in her initial claim and that the COT3 settlement agreement that had been achieved did not represent a fair settlement. The Trust subsequently filed its response to the claim, seeking an order for Mrs Richards’ most recent claim to be struck out.
The application to strike out was considered in a preliminary hearing
The decision of the Employment Tribunal
The Employment Tribunal held that the COT3 settlement agreement agreed between the parties in 2007 on its wording prevented the new litigation from proceeding, as it covered complaints brought under the Employment Rights Act 1996 and Equality Act 2010 (which re-enacted the relevant provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1996). The COT3 settlement agreement therefore acted as a bar to the new proceedings and should not be allowed to proceed.
Our solicitors’ view on Mrs M Richards v Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust
Chris Hadrill, the partner in the employment team at Redmans, commented on the case: “The wording for settlement agreements is crucial in determining whether new litigation can be brought or not – parties seeking to agree settlement agreements should therefore be extremely careful to ensure that the wording suits their intentions.”
The judgment of the Employment Tribunal in Mrs M Richards v Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust can be found here.