Tuesday 11 December 2018

Hotel worker who got into altercation with managing director over removal of rubbish unfairly dismissed, High Court rules

High Court in Dublin
High Court in Dublin

Tim Healy

The High Court has upheld a finding that a hotel worker who got into an altercation with his managing director over the removal of rubbish was unfairly dismissed.

Mr Justice Bernard Barton found the investigative/disciplinary meeting which resulted in the dismissal of Eugene Young from Castle Durrow Country House Hotel in Durrow, Co Laois, was fundamentally flawed, contrary to natural justice and the hotel's own policy.

The judge upheld a finding of the Circuit Court that he had been unfairly dismissed. An Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) also found he was unfairly dismissed and awarded him €32,178. The High Court will deal later with the award and costs.

Towerbrook Ltd, trading as Castle Durrow Country House Hotel, had appealed the EAT and Circuit Court decisions.

Mr Justice Barton said the case arose out of an incident on the busy June bank holiday weekend in 2013 when a considerable amount of rubbish was generated and which was deposited at the rear of the hotel, near the kitchen.

The job of Mr Young, who had been employed as a general handyman for the previous 13 years, included the removal of rubbish for collection. Another duty was to bring food prepared in the hotel kitchen to Bramley's Café in Abbeyleix, which was also owned by the hotel company.

That morning the food had to be delivered by 9.45am but the kitchen entrance was blocked by the rubbish which meant he couldn't load the food.  Mr Young decided to remove the rubbish although he knew it was hotel policy not to do so until after 11am so as not to disturb guests.

The judge said that despite the best efforts of Mr Young and a co-worker to keep noise to a minimum, the hotel managing director, Peter Stokes, heard it and arrived to remonstrate with Mr Young.  

This resulted in an altercation between the two but as to precisely what happened was hotly contested, the judge said.

Mr Stokes said he wagged his finger and may have poked or jabbed Mr Young in the chest. He claimed Mr Young, who was shouting, started pushing him with a beer keg he was carrying. Mr Stokes said he left the scene to diffuse the situation.

Mr Young said Mr Stokes was very cross, shouted expletives and punched him in the chest. He disputed that he pushed him with a beer keg and said he had raised it up in front of his chest to defend himself.  

Later in the day, he demanded an apology from Mr Stokes which was not forthcoming and he was told to go home and calm down.

Subsequent efforts were made by to resolve the matter but when Mr Stokes did not turn up for a meeting the next day, Mr Young went into the office of hotel financial controller, Naomi Shairp, where he tried to remove his shirt to show her the bruising on his chest from the alleged assault. 

Ms Shairp said she was frightened by this. Disciplinary proceedings were later initiated over both incidents, alleging gross misconduct, and he was dismissed.

Mr Justice Barton said the failure to take Mr Young up on an invitation to sort the matter out just after the incident outside the kitchen led rapidly to the development of "entrenched positions" leading to the dismissal.

"I was left with the distinct impression that, had a little common sense and humility been brought to bear on matters, the outcome might very well have been different and this entire litigation avoided," he said.

He found however that the disciplinary meeting leading to the dismissal was flawed, conducted as it was by Mr Stokes himself into his own complaint and that of Ms Shairp against Mr Young.

He found the investigation and ultimate decision making process involved was neither independent, thorough, impartial nor objective as it had to be if it was to comply with the policies which the hotel itself had adopted.

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