We all know colleagues who can be a bit, ‘excitable’! Something which has taken on a whole new meaning this week, with former Burton Albion F.C employee Kerry Miller’s claims for constructive dismissal, sexual discrimination and sexual harassment.
Ms Miller had been employed in a sales and support role for League Two side, Burton Albion at their Pirelli Stadium between 2011 and 2013, before resigning and lodging a claim at the Employment Tribunal. She claims she was forced out by the club following a row with Chairman Ben Robinson over her role at the club, during which he had asked her to concentrate on her duties in the sales dept.
Burton Albion deny the claims entirely, and the Tribunal this week has heard evidence from players and staff at the club who have described how Ms Miller took on extra responsibilities which seemed designed to facilitate more contact with the players.
Ms Miller, the Tribunal was told, burst in to the home changing room some 15 times as the players showered, a move club secretary Fleur Robinson described as ‘completely unheard of’. Manager Gary Rowett complained to the club’s chairman Ben Robinson after senior players had raised concerns that Ms Miller was persistently barging into the dressing room unannounced. Robinson told the Tribunal that the complaints concerned Ms Miller’s conduct with “regard to the number of times she was coming into the players’ dressing room while they were taking showers or partially dressed”.
The Tribunal heard evidence that Ms Miller had sent ‘private’ pictures of herself to striker Billy Kee, had a casual relationship with Defender Ryan Austin, who has since left the club, and also with former Goalkeeper, Stuart Tomlinson, who has since moved signed a development contract as a Wrestler with the WWE in the US.
Ms Miller admitted sending pictures to Kee, but said that she had asked the player to delete the images. Kee told the Tribunal that he had shown them to teammates.
Mr Robinson described how the players would joke about Ms Miller turning up in the dressing room as they came out of the showers post match, and denied claims that he had asked Ms Miller if she was ‘seeking a husband’ when he interviewed her for the job in 2010.
From an Employment perspective, it appears that although the club had discussed Ms Miller’s conduct with her, formal performance management proceedings were not instigated. Whilst Ms Miller has admitted certain conduct which casts doubt as to the veracity of her claim, employers must learn to take much greater care when employee conduct is brought into question. There are always better things to be doing, but when the ET claim hits the mat there are almost always matters that one wishes had been raised more formally earlier. Whilst not every incident of innocent changing room horseplay will necessitate formal disciplinary action – some steps will almost always be needed if costly and often embarrassing ET claims are to be avoided.