Woman fired over ‘vulgar emails’ can pursue unfair dismissal case

UPC terminated employment of Ann Marie Ryan on grounds of serious misconduct

A woman dismissed from her job for sharing emails containing what her former employer claimed to be vulgar and inappropriate material, may pursue her claim for unfair dismissal, the High Court ruled.

Ann Marie Ryan was dismissed by UPC Communications Ireland Ltd (UPC), now Virgin Media Ireland Ltd, on grounds of serious misconduct over the alleged breach of company policy in email usage.

She was among a number of employees subjected to disciplinary proceedings arising from a series of allegations concerning email usage, Mr Justice Paul McDermott noted.

Ms Ryan, who is her 20s and from O’Briens Bridge, Co Limerick, was employed by UPC from February 2008 and was dismissed by letter on October 18th, 2011.

The letter stated her conduct justified summary termination with immediate effect but the firm would pay her one month’s salary in lieu of notice. An internal appeal hearing upheld the dismissal in September 2012.

In early 2013, she took an unfair dismissal claim to the Employment Appeals Tribunal, which came for hearing in September 2014 but UPC challenged its jurisdiction.

Time limit

In a preliminary ruling in February 2015, the tribunal held Ms Ryan’s dismissal did not take effect until the firm’s appeal process had concluded in September 2012 and therefore her unfair dismissal claim was within the six month time limit in the Unfair Dismissals Acts.

In High Court judicial review proceedings against the tribunal, with Ms Ryan as a notice party, UPC argued the tribunal erred in law in holding it had jurisdiction to hear and determine her claim. It argued the date of dismissal was outside the time limit in the Acts and sought orders restraining the tribunal from further hearing the claim.

The tribunal did not play an active part in the case but Ms Ryan, represented by Sunniva McDonagh SC, argued the court should refuse the orders sought and allow her client’s case proceed before the tribunal.

In his judgment on Thursday, Mr Justice McDermott said the tribunal had fully considered the facts, materials submitted and legal submissions before reaching its conclusion that the dismissal only became effective on the conclusion of the appeal.

He also rejected arguments by UPC the tribunal had not applied fair procedures in relation to its treatment of the evidence before reaching its decision on jurisdiction.

The judge was satisfied the tribunal’s decision was made within its jurisdiction. If UPC considered the tribunal’s decision was incorrect in law, it had a right of appeal in accordance with the statutory framework provided for that purpose, he added.