Solicitor challenges handling of unfair dismissal case before WRC

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Solicitor Challenges Handling Of Unfair Dismissal Case Before Wrc Solicitor Challenges Handling Of Unfair Dismissal Case Before Wrc
A High Court judge is hearing an action by a solicitor over the handling by a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer of her complaint she was unfairly dismissed by law firm Arthur Cox.
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A High Court judge is hearing an action by a solicitor over the handling by a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer of her complaint she was unfairly dismissed by law firm Arthur Cox.

Ammi Burke brought the proceedings after an adjudication officer aborted her case in the wake of a significant Supreme Court decision in April with implications for WRC procedures.

Adjudication officer Marie Flynn recused herself from the case and said Ms Burke’s case would need to be heard by a different officer.

The Supreme Court’s Zalewski decision held that the exercise of powers by WRC adjudication officers was an administration of justice, with two sections of the Workplace Relations Act found to be incompatible with the Constitution. The court ruled there was no justification for a blanket ban on private hearings before adjudication officers, and it highlighted the importance of giving evidence on oath to incentivise truthful testimony.

New guidelines

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The WRC published new guidelines on its website to reflect its practice changes in response to the judgment. It updated these guidelines a month later with further detail relating to part-heard cases, stating some evidence “may need to be heard afresh, on oath or affirmation”.

Ms Burke, from Castlebar, Co Mayo, representing herself, told the court on Wednesday the adjudication officer should not have aborted her case and should have ordered Arthur Cox to disclose emails which she says, are “critical” to her case.

She said her firing from Arthur Cox on November 12th, 2019 came without warning.

She said she was prevented from returning to her office to collect her personal belongings, was handed her bag and coat by another colleague and directed to leave the building under threat of calling security.

Ms Burke claims she was dismissed over her criticism of a partner at the firm after she was left working until 2am on March 29th, 2019 while other colleagues were socialising.

She claims Arthur Cox gave no reasons for the dismissal other than a breakdown in the relationship with her. That explanation is a “fabrication” and “groundless”, she claims.

During the hearing, Ms Burke referred to several positive appraisals of her work during her three years at the firm.

Emails

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Ms Burke alleged the adjudication officer’s decision not to direct disclosure of the emails was unreasonable and unjust, and claimed her actions favoured Arthur Cox.

Opposing the action, Catherine Donnelly SC, for the WRC, said the Zalewski decision must apply to ongoing part-heard cases.

It was “unusual” for someone to object to their proceedings being heard in line with the Constitution, counsel said.

She also argued Ms Burke was “incorrect” to imply a link between her case and the WRC’s updated guidance.

There could be a concern of prejudgement if an adjudication officer has part-heard evidence, and it is appropriate that a new hearing would involve a new officer, Ms Donnelly said.

'Conspiracy theory'

On behalf of Arthur Cox, a notice party to the case, Peter Ward SC said Ms Burke has shown a “propensity to accuse anyone and everyone of lying” and had “effectively laid out a conspiracy theory” in claiming the WRC altered guidelines in reaction to her case.

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Mr Ward said Ms Burke and some members of her family had “obstructed” the WRC hearing to such an extent Ms Flynn could not hear other evidence being given. Ms Burke and some family members treated the adjudication officer “appallingly” during the proceedings, he also said.

While the firm is also inconvenienced by the requirement for the case to restart, Ms Flynn’s decision was “lawful and correct”, counsel said.

In reply, Ms Burke denied fabrication and said: “I’m the one party that has raised facts.”

The case continues.

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