Mrs Terraneo had been employed by Whitbread Group Plc (“Whitbread”) from around 1st August 1996. Her job title was ‘breakfast supervisor’. Unlike managers or team leaders, Mrs Terraneo was not required to wear an apron.
From around 2011 onwards, Mrs Terraneo received various warnings for smoking on the terrace in front of the restaurant and for breaching health and safety rules. Disciplinary action was taken against Mrs Terraneo and she received a written warning. She also received verbal warnings for unsatisfactory performance, failure or refusal to carry out legitimate and reasonable instructions and rude or abusive behaviour towards guests, employees or suppliers.
Around the end of 2014, Mrs Terraneo was twice caught smoking in a prohibited area. She was summoned to attend a disciplinary hearing on 8 January 2015. Mrs Terraneo was found guilty of gross misconduct and was summarily dismissed at the end of the hearing. Mrs Terraneo appealed. At the appeal, the penalty imposed was found to be too harsh and was substituted with a final written warning. Mrs Terraneo was informed of this by letter on 11 February 2015.
A “return to work” meeting was fixed for the 23rd February 2015. At this meeting, Mrs Terraneo lodged a grievance in respect of bullying, vexatious allegations and disciplinary treatment, and age discrimination in relation to being unsupported and bullied at work due to her age.
On 4 March 2015, Mrs Terraneo returned to work as normal. When she arrived, she discovered that her shift had been altered to begin an hour later, although she had not been informed of this. In addition, Mrs Terraneo’s hours had been reduced from 42 hours a week to 28.5. During this first shift back, Ms Bongiovani gave Mrs Terraneo an apron to wear. Mrs Terraneo refused because it was dirty and Whitbread had never required her to wear one at any time previously (aprons had been made compulsory for all staff whilst Mrs Terraneo had been away from work, although she had not been informed of this).
At the end of the shift, Ms Bongiovani called Mrs Terraneo into her office, where Mr Silvera was also present, and she was handed a letter suspending her pending investigation. Whitbread staff heard shouting from the office and Mrs Terraneo was told by Mr Silvera: “there is no room for you in this establishment, get out, get out”.
The next day, Mrs Terraneo resigned with immediate effect. The stated reasons were: underhand and vexatious disciplinary treatment; the events of 4th March; systematic bullying; false and vindictive accusations; being demoted; and, that the cumulative effect of the above is that she lost trust and confidence in Whitbread and its staff. She also asserted that the above was age discrimination.
On 6 March, the outstanding grievance from before Mrs Terraneo’s resignation was referred to Mr Kinsman for investigation. The investigation was not completed properly. It did not investigate any of the allegations of age discrimination or bullying. Mr Kinsman did not uphold Mrs Terraneo’s allegations. She appealed against the decision. At no time did Whitbread arrange for an appeal to take place.
Mrs Terraneo bought claims of direct age discrimination in relation to being disciplined for smoking and in relation to Whitbread’s failure to investigate her grievance. Mrs Terraneo also brought related claims of harassment and victimisation.
Mrs Terraneo also brought claims of unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal.
The Tribunal upheld some of Mrs Terraneo’s claims age discrimination claims, but rejected others.
In relation to Mrs Terraneo being disciplined for smoking, the Tribunal rejected the claim of direct age discrimination. The Tribunal was not persuaded that there were any facts from which they could conclude that any less favourable treatment was because of age. Further, the managers that reported her were not acting untoward; they were simply doing their job as managers.
In relation to Whitbread’s failure to investigate Mrs Terraneo’s grievance complaints, the Tribunal upheld the claim of direct age discrimination. The Tribunal found that there was no explanation for the lack of proper investigation. The Tribunal was further persuaded by evidence which showed a culture of age discrimination at Whitbread.
The Tribunal found that the events of the 4th March were part of the effort to bring Mrs Terraneo’s employment to an end. Insofar as the events do not fall within the findings of direct discrimination, the Tribunal found that the events related to Mrs Terraneo’s age and upheld the complaint of harassment.
The Tribunal rejected Mrs Terraneo’s claim of victimisation. Although it was accepted that Mrs Terraneo’s written grievance of 18th February 2015 constituted a protected act, Mrs Terraneo could not point to facts from which they could conclude that Whitbread victimised her.
The Tribunal upheld Mrs Terraneo’s unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal claims.
No compensation award was made at this time, with remedy to be dealt with at a further separate hearing.
Mrs M Terraneo v Whitbread Group PLC, Premier Inn, case number 3401249/2015, 25 May 2016, Huntingdon Employment Tribunal