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Compromise Agreements

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A majority decision from the EAT sitting in Scotland, holding that a Compromise Agreement did not exclude an Equal Pay claim...

As often happens, the Claimant signed a Compromise Agreement on termination of employment. In exchange for signing away her statutory rights, she was given a payment exceeding her statutory entitlements. She had some 12 or so discussions with her solicitor before signing the agreement.

Several months later, she read an article in the newspapers about part-time workers' pension claims. She brought fresh proceedings under the Equal Pay Act 1970 on the basis she had been excluded from her employer's pension scheme whilst a part-time worker. The employer responded by asserting she had signed a compromise agreement which excluded proceedings under the Equal Pay Act.

It was common ground for the purpose of the appeal that the Claimant did not know of her right to bring a part-time pension claim, and equally that her solicitors had not enquired of her whether she might be able to bring such a claim.

The majority of the EAT held that the Compromise Agreement did not prevent her from bringing a new claim because, at the time of signing the agreement, she did not know that such a claim existed. They placed reliance on the fact that the Compromise Agreement stated that she was only excluding such claims as "you believe you have against the Company". So here is a drafting tip: if you are acting for the employer, don't use a phrase like that in your Compromise Agreements.

The minority (wing) member held that it was contrary to policy to allow an employee to avoid the effect of a Compromise Agreement, the purpose of which is to create industrial certainty for employer and employee.

Just out of interest, the EAT also held that it was not relevant that the Claimant's solicitor was only being paid £250 for dealing with the Compromise Agreement (see paragraph 18 of the judgment)!

Hilton Hotels v McNaughton