Coventry University v Mian [2014] EWCA Civ 1275

9 October 2014

Andrew successfully represented the defendant in the Court of Appeal in the work-related stress case of Coventry University v Mian [2014] EWCA Civ 1275. Andrew was instructed by Matthew Harrington of BLM solicitors Cardiff on behalf of QBE Insurance in this successful appeal against a decision of HHJ Barrie that the university was liable to Dr Mian, a senior lecturer, for work-related stress.

The claimant, Dr. Mian, was a longstanding senior academic at Coventry University. In March 2007 Greenwich University contacted Coventry University in relation to a reference it had received concerning a member of staff it employed who had proven to be unsatisfactory. The reference, which purported to come from the claimant, was false in a number of respects. Dr. Mian denied being the author of the reference and on inspection it was noted that the signature on the letter did not match her own.

An investigation led by an Associate Dean of Dr Mian’s faculty, uncovered three other similar false references on her computer hard drive for the same former staff member. It also established Greenwich had probably written to her directly to request the reference. When interviewed Dr. Mian claimed her post had been intercepted and that the member of staff had created the false references and uploaded them onto her computer. She said these false references were then shown to her but she had refused to use them.

Coventry University instigated disciplinary proceedings against Dr. Mian charging her with gross misconduct viz complicity in the preparation of false references, allegations which she denied. The hearing which was due to take place to in April 2007 was delayed for various reasons until November. Dr Mian did not attend but submitted written responses to the allegations. Dr. Mian was acquitted at the disciplinary hearing and she sued the University for instigating gross misconduct proceedings claiming they should never have been brought and for the delays before the November hearing.

HHJ Barrie dismissed her complaint about the delay but found a proper investigation had not been carried out and therefore the charge was unjustified meaning the University were in breach of contract and in breach of duty. Quantum was adjourned but damages of more than £300,000 were claimed. The University appealed.

The Court of Appeal agreed with Andrew that the test was whether a reasonable employer would have considered there was a reasonable basis for the charge and that on the evidence this was clearly the case. They also agreed a deeper investigation would not have affected the outcome therefore it was still reasonable to instigate the disciplinary proceedings. They agreed the judge’s decision was plainly wrong on the facts.