Policewoman wins £55,000 damages

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Mrs. Jacinta Mackie, who retired in February after 28 years' service as a police inspector, has settled her employment claim with her employer the Police Service of Northern Ireland (or ‘PSNI’) in exchange for £55,000 compensation.

Mrs Mackie, who is a Roman Catholic from North Down, Ireland, alleges that she was treated inappropriately by senior officers and staff and that her health suffered as a result. The alleged inappropriate behaviour is said to have included inappropriate sexual comments, remarks about Mrs Mackie’s health and disparaging references about other female officers.

Mrs Mackie first filed grievances about these matters with the PSNI in 2004, however the PSNI have now admitted her grievances were not properly addressed in line with policy or normal disciplinary procedures, and that Mrs Mackie did suffer damage to her health as a result. Mrs Mackie also claims that after she lodged her grievances, she was sidelined and undermined in her professional work within the police service.

Employees who find themselves in similar circumstances to Mrs Mackie should be made aware that the time limits for submitting claims to Employment Tribunals are relatively short. In most cases a claim must be submitted within 3 months minus one day from the date of the act of discrimination that is complained of, however if the employee has submitted a statutory grievance, the time for submitting the claim is extended by a further 3 months. Employees should note that unless they submit a statutory grievance to their employer in respect of the discrimination they have suffered, the Tribunal will not have jurisdiction to hear their claim.

If the grievance procedure does not adequately deal with a grievance, or the grievance is not dealt with properly, a claim should be issued at an employment tribunal as soon as possible or in any event within the applicable time limit, as if a claim is not submitted within the relevant time limit, it may not be accepted by an Employment Tribunal. In the Mackie case, Mrs Mackie submitted a claim within the relevant time limits at the Fair Employment Tribunal of Northern Ireland. The claim alleged that Mrs Mackie had been harassed and victimised and suffered discrimination on the grounds of her sex, religion, political beliefs and disability, contrary to the Sex Discrimination Order, the Fair Employment and Treatment Order and the Disability Discrimination Act.

However, before the Tribunal was able to hear the claim, both parties agreed to settle. A reported part of the settlement was that Mrs Mackie will receive £55,000 (or €69,402) in compensation from the PSNI. The PSNI has acknowledged that Mrs Mackie brought the proceedings in good faith, there was a delay in dealing with Mrs Mackie’s grievances, and that Mrs Mackie’s health suffered as a result of this. The PSNI has also accepted Mrs Mackie has suffered a significant injury to her feelings and considerable distress.

Because the Tribunal never reached a decision in the case, no legal precedent has been set, and employees in a similar position may not receive the same amount if they are successful in their claim at a Tribunal hearing, or if they choose to settle their claim with their employer. However, although the decision in the Mackie case will not be binding on future tribunals, the publication of the settlement amount may have an effect on future negotiations for settlement of Employment Tribunal claims, for both employers and employees.

Even if a claim has been submitted, it is still possible to settle a claim in many ways, for example by way of mediation through ACAS or by signing a compromise agreement. If an order is made at a Tribunal to settle the claim by the consent of both of parties, but one party subsequently does not comply with the terms that were agreed under the settlement, it may not be possible to continue to pursue the claim in the Tribunal as it may have ordered that the claim is disposed of.

In those circumstances the employee would need to take action to enforce the terms of the agreement reached. It is advisable to obtain legal advice before agreeing to any settlement proposal.

The PSNI has issued a statement in response to the announcement of the Mackie settlement that it has undertaken to review its Equal Opportunities policies and procedures and agreed to liaise with the Northern Ireland Equality Commission in the future.

The PSNI has also reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring that its practices and procedures comply in all respects with its obligations under national and European law and the relevant codes of practice.


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