Will ambiguity in a dismissal letter be a factor in permitting a dyslexic claimant to extend the limitation period for bringing a claim?
Yes, held the Court of Appeal in Lowri Beck v Brophy.
The Claimant brought claims for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination against his employer. He is severely dyslexic and relies on the help of his brother.
The Claimant's former employer telephoned him on 29 June 2017, informing him of the negative outcome of a disciplinary hearing. He was told he would receive this in a letter.
The letter was received on 6 July, stating:
"Further to the disciplinary hearing held on Wednesday, 21 June 2017 and our telephone conversation on Thursday, 29 June 2017, I am writing to inform you of my decision. I have no option but to dismiss you for gross misconduct. This dismissal will be with immediate effect from 29 June 2017."
An employment tribunal held that although the Claimant had lodged his claim after the primary time limit expired, time should be extended for both parts of the claim (under the Employment Rights Act and Equality Act respectively). The reasons included that the "Claimant is a vulnerable individual who has dyslexia" and the terms of the letter were "unclear and contradictory".
The employer argued in the Court of Appeal that it was not reasonable for the Claimant to read the letter of 4 July (received on 6 July) as the letter which effected his dismissal, and that the employment judge had made an error of law in reaching her conclusions in the way she did.
The Court of Appeal disagreed. The employment judge was entitled to reach the conclusions she did because the inquiry is a question of fact, not a question of law. Underhill LJ noted that "the terms of the letter were on any reasonable view at least ambiguous", and it was reasonable for the Claimant to consider his formal dismissal as taking effect when he received the letter.
Thanks to Oscar Davies, pupil at Outer Temple Chambers, for preparing this case summary.