Mark Lawrance v Borough Council of Calderdale

Andrew Boast
04/05/2020
42
6 min read
Mark Lawrance v Borough Council of Calderdale

An employment tribunal held in August 2019 is a clear example of how not to act towards female staff members. The consequences being, as you can imagine, a complete mess in every sense of the word for the employer and employee. The employer needs to protect its employees from harassment and it comes in many different forms as we cover in our article here - What is harassment?

In this case an employee claimed they were unfairly dismissed. However, it was the cause of the dismissal that makes this case stand out for all the wrong reasons. Mr Mark Lawrance had been working for the local authority Borough City Council since 1986 - that is thirty years of misogyny and sexual harassment going undiscovered until recent years. Mr Lawrance is apparently still living in the 80’s, when it was the norm for women to be objectified and harassed in the workplace, with little to no consequences of course. Well now in the rise of #metoo movements, open minded bosses and equal working practices, companies all over the world are in the firing line if they allow their employees to act in this outdated way and attempt to dominate the workplace.

So what happened in the case?

After months of investigation, a total of eleven witnesses and four meetings with Mr Lawrance himself, it was concluded that he was to be dismissed on the basis of gross misconduct (a serious enough act that justifies the employer to kick them out, without notice.) Mrs Jenkins, the investigating officer sent a letter to Mr Lawrance stating reasons for the dismissal, all the while he hilariously denies any evidence of his crimes. Mr Lawrance argues unfair dismissal from his co-worker and respondent to the case Mr Paul Smith. Ironically, he claims he was the one being subjected to undermining and intimidating behaviour by employees, he also states that Mrs Jenkins was “aggressive” and adopted a “cruel and degrading manner of questioning” while she was investigating the case. A huge hurt to the ego apparently, being degraded by a woman.
Harassment in the work place
In her conclusion, and the letter in mention, it states that not only did he micromanage with frustratingly tiny details in documents written by other employees (e.g; changing punctuation and grammar), he practised devious and childlike behaviour, in turning employees against one another and bullying members of staff for lengthy periods of time. This is without mentioning the derogatory and personal remarks towards female staff. Of course its the typical, sleazy comments any women can imagine, such as stating, “maternity will ruin your career!” followed by, unwanted questions about personal relationships and sexual activity. More comments about, ‘breasts and bottoms’ and to top it all off he was caught sexually advancing on female employees while sat in car parks and lay-bys.

Despite the outstanding amount of evidence against him, Mr Lawrance still continues to claim innocence describing these events as, “untrue, hearsay and sheer vindictiveness.” He believes that Mr Paul Smith (the respondent and former employer) was not in authority to dismiss him. While during the hearing it came to light that it was actually Mrs Jenkins (the investigating officer) that approved the decision after an interview with Mrs Tolson, which would conclude the case and be the final nail in the coffin for Lawrance's career.

Mrs Tolson was interviewed to account for her sick leave, when it came to light that she herself had be assaulted by Mr Lawrance in a room of The White Swan hotel, in late February 2007. Not only is that outrageous, but during the trial Tolson then goes on to claim that he had commented on the intelligence of another female co-worker, originally praising her work and career but finishing the conversation with, “she will always be a sl#t from Lundenfoot.” He then offends further by referring to a staff member's chest as her “own inflatables” whilst talking about a ferry crossing. The list goes on with Lawrance's vulgar and completely inappropriate language towards his work colleagues including “top totty” “nice legs” and “piece of skirt.” The female staff then labelled him as a ’sex pest’, obviously.

Overtime and rightly so, the trust and confidence in Mr Lawrance's position as team manager broke down, as well as four different accounts of gross misconduct. The tribunal concluded that Mr Lawrance is at fault, overlooking his appeal for innocence, it was decided there was a reasonable investigation, despite taking seven months to complete. His claim of unfair dismissal and breach of contract were both dismissed.

Lesson learned; Don’t call your co-workers sl#ts.

What could the employer or employee do differently?
A case like Mark Lawrance v Borough Council of Calderdale highlights how ongoing bad behaviour can create a culture within a workplace. However, this can be overcome through creating a better working environment, where the management handle individual cases as and when they happen. Management must be vigilant in identifying any issues themselves and should have a Harassment Policy that can be followed by any employees wishing to report an incident.

Whilst some companies are too small for so much paperwork and internal procedure, there should always be a way for employees to flag issues of harassment to their employer.

Staying quiet is not the solution - you could be leaving the issue to effect someone else or for it to get worse for you. No matter how strong you are everyone has their limit, where you'll quit or become mentally or physically ill with long lasting effects. ACAS gives useful guidance on how to raise a complaint about harassment and we have drafted a template Harassment Grievance letter to download.


Have you been harassed in the work place?

You can use our online documents to run your own employment law case and stand up to harassment in the work place or you can get in contact and see how we can help you.

Whether you need help drafting your Grievance Letter or want us to handle your application to the Employment Tribunal, our solicitor provides specialist advice at competitive rates. We will even help you work out whether you have a case worth pursing.

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This content is provided free of charge for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. No responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by any member of our company. For employment law advice please get in contact and speak to your employment law solicitors.
 
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