Haberdashers' Monmouth School v Turner
(Burton P., 8th March 2004)
An unusual case concerning constructive dismissal. Ms Turner had been a teacher for 22 years, on (as everyone believed) a self-employed contract. The school wanted to formalise her position and offered her employment. The contract did not recognise her 22 years' previous service and, after taking legal advice, Ms Turner refused to sign the contract on the basis she had been working under an implied contract of employment for 22 years, and her continuity of employment should be recognised. She resigned, claiming constructive dismissal. The tribunal found (i) she had been an employee for 22 years; and (ii) accordingly the school's refusal to recognise this was a repudiatory breach of contract.
The EAT held that the tribunal's approach was wrong. The correct approach, following classic contract law cases, was to ask whether the school had shown an intention not to be bound by the terms of the contract (which is necessary for a repudiatory breach). Importantly, the fact a party to the contract may make a genuine and honest mistake as to the legal interpretation does not mean it no longer intends to be bound; to the contrary, it may well intend to be bound by the contract but has just made a mistake over what the contract requires. Accordingly the case was remitted.