FBU wins ground-breaking victory over firefigher's unjust dismissal
The Fire Brigades Union and Thompsons Solicitors have secured a ground-breaking victory for firefighter Christopher Bennett after he was sacked for sending an email to colleagues about the fire service's insistence that he used a chair that was injuring his back on nightshifts at work.
The Tribunal found that his right to freedom of expression under the Human Rights Act had been breached and that his dismissal was unfair.
Christopher Bennett who suffered back problems had over 25 years service with GMFRA and sent an email in February 2008 to colleagues referring to an article which appeared in the Manchester Evening News on 29 November 2007, headlined 'Firefighters sue brigade 'after hurting backs on station chairs'.
In 2007 Mr Bennett had asked the authority to make reasonable adjustments under the Disability Discrimination Act by permitting him to use his own rest mattress, as an alternative "horizontal" form of resting during nightshifts. Mr Bennett's request to use his own mattress had been refused and he was told only to use the rest facility provided by GMFRA or rest on the benches in the snooker room.
After a 7 day Hearing in June and September 2009 the Tribunal found that the email was of political and public interest in that firefighters should be alert and fit to go about their business of fighting fires and effecting rescues. The Tribunal went on to find that Mr Bennett was seeking in his own way to protect public safety.
Thompsons secured an out-of-court settlement of £80,000 more than the statutory cap for these types of cases.
Steve Shelton, Fire Brigades Union official who had represented Mr Bennett during his disciplinary hearings, said: "I always knew that Chris had been treated unfairly and that the mitigating circumstances involved in his case had been ignored. To lose his job for speaking out about his concerns for safety was a sanction too far. It's reassuring to know that the law recognises this and that our legal advisors were able to successfully argue that the Human Rights Act be applied to Chris's case."
Mr Bennett said: "Without the support of the Fire Brigades Union I would not have been able to get justice in my case. I was aware that we would be breaking new ground if we could convince the Tribunal to apply the Human Rights Act. I would like to thank them for backing me and my case."
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