Firefighter was 'set up to fail'

PUBLISHED: 10:30 22 May 2009 | UPDATED: 11:01 10 June 2010

N Exmouth female firefighter, forced out of her job, has won her case against Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service for unfair dismissal.

N Exmouth female firefighter, forced out of her job, has won her case against Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service for unfair dismissal.Sandra Tilke, 43, from Rewe, is celebrating winning a six-year battle against the fire service after taking out two claims against the brigade.Mrs Tilke, who is married to an Exmouth firefighter, claimed fire chiefs were plotting to get rid of her after she returned to work following a period of sick leave.The fire service has said it will be reviewing the judgement with its legal representatives.Former army officer, Mrs Tilke, brought tribunal proceedings against the fire service claiming sexual and disability discrimination while working at Exeter fire station in 2006.Mrs Tilke's first claim stemmed from events relating to the Fire Brigade Union's strike of 2002-03.Mrs Tilke claimed she was a victim of discrimination and victimisation by fire bosses.When Mrs Tilke went on sick leave with work related stress in 2004, she claimed senior managers within the fire service made it difficult to return.She told the tribunal how emails had been circulated throughout the brigade, with the deliberate intention of stirring up ill-feeling and resentment on her return. She said she felt there had been a conspiracy against her - claiming the fire service had repeatedly put hurdles in her way to prevent her returning to work.Speaking after her fight for justice, Mrs Tilke praised the support of her day-to-day line managers at Exmouth fire station - at both watch level and station management level. She said: "The comments in the judgment are very critical of the senior managers, who were dealing with the management of my return and my disability. "I am delighted the tribunal has upheld my claim of unfair dismissal. "After 12 years of loyal and dedicated service to the brigade, I was disappointed that the senior management chose to treat me in such a way that, eventually, I was left with no option but to resign. "I am now concentrating on putting this unpleasant episode behind me, regaining my health and moving forward."The tribunal panel upheld Mrs Tilke's complaints, deeming her return to work was 'set up to fail'.Employment tribunal Judge Parker said chief fire officer Paul Young, who recently retired, 'failed to appreciate or simply refused to acknowledge the impact of the emails'. Judge Parker said: "No consideration appears to have been given to the fact that the claimant was returning to work in a potentially hostile environment, engendered by an email issued from the very top of the employer's organisation. We see considerable force in the claimant's submission that, on her return to work, she was being set up to fail. "We have no hesitation at all in saying that this was an act, not merely likely to destroy or seriously damage the relationship of trust and confidence, but calculated to do so. "In the course of our findings of fact, we have been critical of the manner in which the respondent dealt with the claimant's return to work. Laudably, in the view of this tribunal, the claimant elected to struggle on."We have no hesitation in saying that the initial emails, particularly that of Mr Young, taken together with the manner in which the claimant's complaints about them were dealt with, amounted to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence. "It is also equally clear to us, having heard the claimant give her evidence, that she desperately wanted to resume her career as a fully operational firefighter, despite the very unpleasant experiences she had undergone in 2002/2003."A Devon and Somerset Fire and rescue service spokesman said: "We have received notice of the reserved judgement in relation to the claims from Mrs Tilke. The claims of disability discrimination and sex discrimination against the service have been dismissed along with the claims for breach of contract and for unpaid wages. "The claim for constructive unfair dismissal has, however, been upheld. "There is a right of appeal and the service will be reviewing the judgement with our legal representatives." The case is due for a one day Remedy Hearing before the Exeter tribunal later in the year.


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