In this issue...

  • Religion & Belief Discrimination: Can a belief in the sanctity of copyright be a protectable philosophical belief?
  • Unlawful Deductions from Wages: Six-year limitation period
  • Leaked email from lawyers acting for respondent was covered by legal advice privilege
  • New Acas guidance to provide support for menopausal workers

Religion & Belief Discrimination: Can a belief in the sanctity of copyright be a protectable philosophical belief?

In Gray v Mulberry Company (Design) Ltd the Court of Appeal (CA) considered whether there had been any discrimination where an employee was dismissed for refusing to sign a copyright agreement on the basis that she held a philosophical belief she should own the rights to her work.

On commencement of her employment with Mulberry Ms Gray signed the contract of employment but refused to sign a copyright agreement which essentially meant that her employer, Mulberry, would own the rights to any work Ms Gray created whilst she was employed by them. Ms Gray argued that the intellectual property obligations could extend to work undertaken outside of her employment with Mulberry as a writer and filmmaker. Despite Mulberry revising the agreement to clarify that only work carried out on Mulberry's business would be covered, Ms Gray still declined to sign the copyright agreement as she considered its wording to be "general and open to interpretation". Ms Gray was dismissed as a result and filed claims for direct and indirect belief discrimination.

The Employment Tribunal (ET) dismissed Ms Gray's claims holding that Mulberry's actions were a proportionate means of safeguarding intellectual property and that Ms Gray's "belief" was not a philosophical belief capable of protection.

Dismissing Ms Gray's appeal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that the ET had been correct in its assessment of Ms Gray's direct discrimination claim and further held that her claim for indirect discrimination would not succeed. The EAT held that Ms Gray was the only one who held the belief and so she could not show any group disadvantage. Ms Gray appealed to the CA.

The CA held that it was irrelevant whether or not the stated belief was a protected belief, because it had not put the employee to a disadvantage, there being no causal connection between the belief and either Ms Gray's refusal to sign the copyright agreement or Mulberry's decision to dismiss her. A debate or dispute about the wording or interpretation of an agreement cannot qualify as a philosophical belief. Further, not only was Ms Gray the only member of the group sharing her belief who suffered a disadvantage, but also requesting Ms Gray to sign the copyright agreement was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim (i.e. protection of intellectual property rights). As such, Ms Gray's claim for indirect discrimination did not succeed.

Unlawful Deductions from Wages: Six-year limitation period

In Bath Hill (Bournemouth) Management Company Ltd v Coletta the CA held that, in a claim for a series of unlawful deductions from wages issued before 1 July 2015, there was no six-year "backstop" period limiting the period of the deductions and therefore the amount that could be claimed.

At an ET hearing in 2015 Mr Coletta had successfully claimed that his employer, Bath Hill (Bournemouth) Management Ltd (Bath Hill), had failed to pay him at national minimum wage rates. At the subsequent remedies hearing before the ET, Mr Coletta sought to recover payment for the sums that should have been paid, going back to the introduction of the National Minimum Wage Act, a period of some 15 years. Bath Hill contended that the correct interpretation of the law meant Mr Coletta could only recover sums going back six years. Mr Coletta appealed to the EAT.

Allowing the appeal, the EAT held that where a claim was brought under a statute that prescribed a period of limitation, section 39 Limitation Act 1980 provided that the limitations that would otherwise apply pursuant to that Act (including the six-year limitation under section 9 of the Limitation Act) would not do so.

Bath Hills appealed to the CA who dismissed the appeal. The outcome meant that Mr Coletta could recover underpayments for the whole of his 14 years of employment.

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