An employer should always thoroughly investigate allegations from employees when they are raised. But what happens when an employer dismisses a claim without doing so? In the case of Charlotte Long, a waitress at a Manchester nightclub, speaking out about an alleged sexual assault by a Premiership footballer resulted in her being fired from her job. Lloyd Clarke examines the case.
Charlotte Long was waitressing at a £2,000-a-booth Manchester nightclub when she claimed she was groped by Everton footballer, Aaron Lennon. She claimed the famous footballer ripped her top and then slapped her face at popular nightspot ‘Suede’. Only 18 at the time, Miss Long was left shocked and expected management to come to her aid. Instead, she was told to ‘take a minute’ and then get straight back on with her job.
Miss Long was told that Lennon had been ejected from the club due to his behaviour, but was shocked to find him still there later that evening. Charlotte’s mother, Gill, subsequently approached both Suede and Everton FC on the issue but was ignored by both. The pair also relayed the incident to police.
However, weeks later, Charlotte was fired from her job at Suede over the phone, with the police dropping the investigation due to lack of evidence.
Charlotte and her Mother took legal action against Nightspot Leisure, the Company who own Suede and a number of other luxury clubs, in the Employment Tribunal. The company did not contest her case.
The Tribunal ruled that Charlotte had been unfairly dismissed, sacked without notice and had money deducted from her pay (her holiday pay having been deducted from her final pay cheque).
The Judge said club bosses failed to show concern for her on the night of the incident and caused her further distress by sacking her.
He went on to state: “This is something which should have been dealt with by the club immediately. Whether the status that the footballer had had something to do with the way in which they dealt with it, we will never know. The fact is a young woman in those circumstances should be protected from this sort of action and should be protected by their employer in a proper way. Her statement is very well reasoned. The employer has a duty to look after its employees.”
Charlotte was awarded £14,588 in compensation.
There are certainly wider implications of a case like this, which acts as a strong warning to employers.
Firstly, an employer must take allegations such as this with the severity they deserve. Employers must properly and thoroughly investigate allegations when they are raised, regardless of how important or lucrative a client or customer’s business is to them. In the case of the Charlotte Long, she felt her claim was ignored by her employers because they didn’t want to jeopardise their celebrity guest returning to the club.
The fact that Charlotte’s dismissal was connected with an act of whistleblowing (her reporting to the police and subsequently being sacked) only served to further worsen the employer’s position – this gave her a claim for automatic unfair dismissal (which does not need the 2 years’ service usually required for ordinary unfair dismissal) which is not only easier to prove in some respects but also led to an increase in the compensation payable.
Furthermore, the finding that the employer had not paid the claimant her holiday or notice pay also served to worsen their position.
When to seek help for employee allegations
It is imperative that employers seek expert legal advice when faced with situations such as these – if they do not it can be very costly and incredibly damaging to their public profile, as may have been the case here where the incident attracted national media attention.
If you are worried about an employee claim, or if you are an employee with a claim to make, don’t hesitate to contact Lloyd on 01206 239761.