RAF Croughton worker denied workers rights
RAF Croughton is again under fire just weeks after allowing Anne Sacoolas, the American who claimed diplomatic immunity, to leave the UK following the death of Brackley teenager Harry Dunn.
Firefighter Caroline Wright says she was wrongly forced from her job at the base after she was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2017.
She was joined in her quest for compensation by a second claimant, Anthea Webster, who suffers from a debilitating condition that frequently leaves her in extreme pain.
Despite her illness, she had been rated as “outstanding” by her bosses for each of the last seven years of her employment as a records officer at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk.
An employment tribunal in Cambridge heard last month that both women had been directly employed by the US government as civilian workers.
The hearing was told that a US military presentation for its British staff had stated that “employees are entitled to all rights and entitlements afforded under UK law."
But despite assurances of the protection of UK law, when Mrs Webster and Miss Wright brought separate compensation claims following their dismissals from their jobs, Washington took steps to end the proceedings by invoking "state immunity" rules.
The women were told last week that their legal case had to be thrown out after Washington argued successfully that an employment tribunal had no jurisdiction and the women have no right to pursue discrimination claims - despite the fact that both women were British citizens working in the UK and paying UK taxes.
In a highly unusual move, the tribunal judge expressed sympathy for the women and said it would “undoubtedly appear unjust” to them that they had been barred from exercising a right available to other Britons.
The women last night accused the American government of depriving Britons of the right to justice on their own soil.
They believe the ruling has the effect of barring 1,100 other British civilians directly employed on US air bases in the UK from being able to take grievances to a British court.
The Pentagon hired Professor Dan Sarooshi QC, one of Britain’s leading lawyers and an expert on international law at Oxford University, to successfully argue that America was entitled to state immunity - the concept that a state’s “sovereign acts” cannot be ruled upon by the courts of another state, even when those acts take place on the second state’s territory.
Miss Wright and Mrs Webster, who both represented themselves at the hearing against the heavyweight US legal team, are hoping to appeal the ruling but are unable to afford their own expert lawyers to take their cases further.
Both women told our sister paper, the i, they felt angry and bewildered.
Miss Wright said: “I am shocked and beyond disappointed by what has happened.
"The US government has spent probably hundreds of thousands of dollars on heavy legal representation to deny me my basic human right to not be discriminated against and for fair treatment in the workplace and to shut down any further cases being brought against them.
"Fighting for justice alone was an impossible task leaving me in absolute legal limbo.”
Employment Judge Foxwell challenged a claim from Prof Sarooshi that the US presentation promising “all rights and entitlements” under UK law had not been misleading when it failed to make clear that state immunity might be invoked for employment disputes.
The judge wrote: “In my judgment, most UK employees receiving this information would believe this meant that they had an unfettered right to have employment claims recognised by law adjudicated on in an Employment Tribunal.”
But in his 24-page ruling delivered last week, the judge found that in their roles as employees of the US government both women had carried out “sovereign functions” of another state and therefore the law of state immunity prevented the tribunal from investigating their claims.
Judge Foxwell underlined that the doctrine of state immunity meant he was therefore required to dismiss both women’s claims without considering their merits.
Miss Wright, who recently became a mother, had claimed disability and sex discrimination after she was diagnosed with epilepsy early in 2017 and was forced to resign in January 2018.
She also subsequently claimed constructive dismissal.
The judge praised both women for the “great dignity” with which they had conducted themselves, as well as accepting the sense of injustice felt by the women.
He said: “I have personal sympathy with the position in which the claimants find themselves.
"They had not been told during their employment that they might not be able to seek a judicial determination in this country of their employment rights and it will undoubtedly appear unjust to them that they are excluded from rights most other employees and workers in the UK are entitled to exercise.”
The women’s case comes amid increased tension between London and Washington over America’s longstanding ambivalence towards international legal proceedings involving either its government or its citizens.
The i has approached the American military authorities in Britain and the US embassy in London for comment on the tribunal proceedings.
No response had been received at the time of publication.
(Courtesy iNews reporter Cahal Milmo)