Does raising a grievance give an employee more time to bring a discrimination claim?

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The EAT provided guidance on this question in Wells Cathedral School and another v Souter and another. The case involved two teachers’ discrimination claims. Both had brought their claims outside of the three-month time limit in which a claim must be brought.

In rare circumstances, a Tribunal may agree to extend this time limit so that a claim can be brought within “such other period as the Employment Tribunal thinks just and equitable”.

Here, both teachers had raised grievances which included their allegations of discrimination, and “referred to the potential strength of the legal claims which might have been founded upon them”. By the time claim forms were issued, the majority of the complaints were more than a year old.

The Employment Tribunal decided that the time the teachers had to bring their claims should be extended. The Judge noted that these “were not claims which had been sprung on the Respondents from the depths of history. They were complaints which were on foot from [the dates of the teachers’ respective grievances] as allegations of discrimination”. Overall, the Judge decided that the arguments weighed “more heavily” in the teachers’ favour.

This decision was appealed, and the case reached the EAT. The EAT noted that “[b]eyond [some] basic principles, what factors are relevant and how to weigh them up in the given case are matters for the Employment Tribunal … the tribunal should beware of taking a mechanistic approach… what is or is not a good or a bad reason for delay is inherently malleable, variable and fact-specific”.

The EAT confirmed that an employee is not “guaranteed” an extension of time simply because they have raised a grievance. “Whether or not it is just and equitable to extend time…will depend on the tribunal’s weighing in the balance of all the factors that it regards as relevant in the given case”.

In this case, the Employment Tribunal’s decision was upheld by the EAT, as it showed “no error of principle as to the law, and, reading this decision in the round, the necessary elements of the reasoning are all present, … sound, and … not perverse or … unreasonable”. The appeal was dismissed.