Quigley v Complex Tooling & Moulding Ltd

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeMr. Justice Fennelly
Judgment Date22 July 2008
Neutral Citation[2008] IESC 44
Docket Number[2001 No. 1685P],Appeal No. 143/2005 Neutral Ciation No. [2008] IESC 44
CourtSupreme Court
Date22 July 2008
BETWEEN/
MATT QUIGLEY
PLAINTIFF / RESPONDENT
AND
COMPLEX TOOLING AND MOULDING LIMITED
DEFENDANT / APPELLANT

Appeal No. 143/2005

Neutral Ciation No. [2008] IESC 44

SUPREME COURT

Abstract:

Tort law - Psychiatric injuries - Bullying and harassment at work - Causation - Whether the plaintiff's depression was caused by the harassment he suffered at work.

Facts: The defendant appealed against the Order of the High Court awarding damages in the total sum of €75,773.94 to the plaintiff for psychiatric injury in the form of depression caused by bullying or harassment in the workplace. The defendant appealed on the grounds that, firstly, the evidence, though uncontradicted, did not bear out the plaintiff's complaints of bullying, and secondly, that there was not sufficient evidence of a causal link between the bullying which the High Court Judge found that the plaintiff had been subjected to and the depression his doctor found him to have suffered. The defendant also appealed against the quantum. The plaintiff gave evidence that he was subjected to excessive and humiliating scrutiny by the Defendant's Plant Manager, Mr Skinner. The plaintiff's evidence in that regard was supported by the evidence of other employees. The plaintiff first attended his doctor on 8 January 2001. He informed her that he had been dismissed from his employment in October 1999 and that he had been suffering from depression for six months prior to his visit to her. The plaintiff was successful in his claim for Unfair Dismissal before the Rights Commissioner and again on appeal by the defendant before the Employment Appeals Tribunal. The medical report did not mention any complaint regarding bullying but stated that the plaintiff was suffering from depression arising out of his industrial relations problems. The plaintiff in his own evidence stated that it was not until after he realised he would not get his job back that the situation affected him mentally. He did not give evidence that he suffered depression arising out of Mr Skinner's treatment of him.

Held by Fennelly J. (Denham and Geoghegan JJ concurring) in allowing the appeal and setting aside the Order of the High Court: That the evidence of the plaintiff established that he was subjected to bullying in the workplace. It was agreed that the plaintiff was not entitled in these proceedings to recover damages for any personal injuries suffered as a consequence of his dismissal from his employment. The medical evidence presented was consistent only with the plaintiff's depression having been caused by his dismissal and the subsequent unfair dismissal proceedings and there was no medical evidence of a link with the harassment. That was consistent with the plaintiff's own evidence. Consequently, the plaintiff failed to discharge the burden of proving that his depression was caused by his treatment during his employment.

Reporter: L.O'S.

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JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Fennelly delivered the 22nd day of July, 2008

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1. This appeal concerns an award of damages for psychiatric injury (reactive depression) found to have been caused by bullying or harassment in the workplace. In a judgment of 9th March 2005, Lavan J in the High Court found that the plaintiff had "suffered personal injury as a direct consequence of a breach of the defendant's duties as employers to prevent workplace bullying."The learned judge, following a separate judgment on damages, awarded to the plaintiff the sum of Eur75,000 for general damages together with the sum of Eur773.94 special damages.

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2. The defendant appeals on two grounds: firstly, that the evidence, though uncontradicted, did not bear out the plaintiffs complaints of bullying; secondly, that there was no sufficient evidence of a causal link between the bullying which the High Court judge found that the plaintiff had been subjected to and the depression his doctor found him to have suffered. The defendant also appeals against the quantum.

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3. In spite of the comparative novelty of the cause of action, the Court has not been asked to decide any principles of law. The parties were ad idemas to the nature of the wrong of harassment or bullying and the standard which should be applied.

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The facts

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4. The Plaintiff commenced employment with a predecessor company of the defendant at its premises at Kells, County Meath, in or about August 1977. The defendant terminated his employment by dismissing him on or about the 18th October 1999. The defendant, which is no longer in business, carried on the business of assembly of computer parts.

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5. The plaintiff, who lives in Kells, had been employed as a factory operative for more than twenty years before the defendant company took over the business in 1998. The defendant appointed a new American plant manager, Mr. Ron Skinner. Most of the plaintiff's complaints relate to his

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treatment at the hands of Mr Skinner from 1998 until the termination of his employment on 18th October 1999.

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6. The learned trial judge cited as amounting to uncontradicted evidence the particulars of the harassment alleged by the plaintiff in the statement of claim. His approach was to accept as established the matters particularised as follows:

  • "(a) During the month of July/August in 1998 the Plaintiff was subjected to humiliation at the hands of the Defendant Managing Director, Denis Hampton, following his refusal to accept a voluntary redundancy package which had been offered to him by John Dory, on behalf of the Defendant. During a meeting on the issue, the Plaintiff enquired of John Dory as to what was the reason behind the fact that he was the only member of staff to be offered voluntary redundancy, stating that it was the principle that interested him. John Dory stated "the principle, don't make me laugh", at which Denis Hampton laughed also.

  • (b) The Defendants its servant or agents made humiliating and demeaning reference to and about the Plaintiff, such as on the 6th of April 1999, when Ron Skinner informed Fidelma Browne, an operative into the Defendant Company, that the Plaintiff and a colleague Seamus Reilly, would be retaining their Grade 11 rate of pay, and stated "don't worry, I'll sort out the granddads". On another occasion, after the Plaintiff had through exasperation resulting from the bullying and intimidation at work, raised his voice to a colleague, Ron Skinner asked Seamus Reilly "Do you think that Matt talks to his wife like that. Do you think she would accept being spoken to like this?

  • (c) The Plaintiff was subjected to excessive and humiliating scrutiny by the Defendant's Plant Manager, Mr. Ron Skinner. He often stood for up to 30 minutes on a box approximately 8 feet behind the Plaintiff's work station, with the effect of intimidating the plaintiff. He also made comments about the Plaintiff's work, for example stating to Joe Power (an operative in the employ

    of the Defendant ) that he would have to give the Plaintiff "some broom training", suggesting that the Plaintiff was not capable of the most basic duties, when in fact he had received two awards for cleanest work area from previous management. The plaintiff felt that the purpose of this intimidation and scrutiny was that Ron Skinner was engaging in a campaign to seek justifications for not paying the Plaintiff his Grade 11 rate of pay."

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7. Although there was some evidence in respect of paragraphs (a) and (b), each of those seem to relate to somewhat isolated incidents and there are at least some problems of proof relating to parts of those matters. In the event, those headings do not require analysis by the Court. It is clear that the overwhelming focus of the plaintiff's complaints related to paragraph (c) and the behaviour of Mr Skinner.

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8. The plaintiff claimed that he was being over-scrutinised by Mr Skinner. A flavour of this is given by the following quotation from the plaintiff's evidence:

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"Well, when I would be working away doing my job on assembly with 5 or 6 other employees doing the same job Mr Skinner would come and position himself on some platforms behind me and would be there for half an hour, 45 minutes, daily, watching me."

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9. He became aware of this when colleagues told him of it. Then he was conscious of it. Mr Skinner would be six or seven feet behind him. He would "take up the same stance and stand there with his arms folded just watching me." This made the plaintiff feel very uncomfortable. The behaviour continued two or three times a week even after the plaintiff had complained through his shop steward. The plaintiff described the attitude and behaviour of Mr Skinner in the following answers:

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"His attitude was that I was not capable of doing the assembly the way they wanted it done. He would tell the charge hand in question that any of my work was to be looked at, you know, over scrutinise and check this that and the other. I was so nervous with him watching me that I would make mistakes, because I was aware he is

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watching me..."

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"If I was doing silk screening for instance he would say "I do not know why you are doing that, that is no good. You can see that is no good, there is a scratch on the surface" whatever a screw missing or something. Another day when I would leave ...... things out and not do them he'd say, "look you could have done that and we can get that rectified. Go back on that" you know. So no matter what I was doing it just was not right for him"

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"......when I would go to get a drink of water he would be standing at my section ......and he would be tapping the door as much as to say well there is nobody working here......I would leave down my drink of water and come over thinking he wanted to speak to me and when I'd come over he would walk off."

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10. The evidence of the plaintiff showed the behaviour of Mr Skinner to combine persistent watching, constant niggling...

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