The Court of Appeal is expected to hear an extraordinary case soon involving a wealthy aristocrat who says he is descended from Charles II and his treatment of two of his employees who were sacked from his upmarket wedding business at his stately homes after they became pregnant.
Since the case the wedding business has been closed down after Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service issued two prohibition notices on one of the venues, Maunsel House, because of “inadequate means of escape from first and second floors due to lack of escape signage, lack of emergency lighting and lack of fire separation.” He has been ordered to install fire escapes.
Surcharge of 25 per cent imposed on compensation package
Sir Benjamin Slade is now appealing a ruling from an Employment Appeal Tribunal which not only ordered him to pay compensation for unfair and constructive dismissal , injury to feelings of the two women and aggravated damages, but imposed a 25 per cent surcharge on the awards for breaching the employers’ code of practice by ACAS. The total compensation for both women came to just short of £180,000. The surcharge ruling is particularly significant as it lays down rules for similar surcharges in other cases.
The two women, Melissa Biggs and Roxanne Stewart worked on his wedding business where people could hire Maunsel House and Woodlands Castle near Bridgewater and Taunton in Somerset. Roxanne Stewart, was a deputy manager and Melissa Briggs, an admin assistant. Both became pregnant at about the same time.
What followed was that both of them found themselves dismissed without full statutory maternity and holiday pay and wages after first being transferred to a new company – without their knowledge- which only employed both of them and had no money to pay them. Their pregnancies were said to be ” highly inconvenient” for Sir Benjamin .
The tribunal used unusually strong language against Sir Benjamin including accusing him of refusing to hear Melissa Biggs grievances and subjecting Roxanne Stewart to a ” spurious and vindictive disciplinary process” on ” trumped up ” charges. Sir Benjamin was said to have made ” entirely fanciful” allegations against her. They were also critical of his agent, Andrew Hamilton.
” one of the most egregious acts of discrimination possible”- tribunal
The first employment tribunal hearing described the process involving Roxanne Stewart as “one of the most egregious acts of discrimination possible”. The timing of the suspension, in the advanced states of her pregnancy, was “designed… with her then vulnerability in mind, to have maximum effect on her” The suspension and dismissal were then pursued with the “motivation… of driving her out of employment”.
She gave birth prematurely and within the weeks following that birth ,her baby was in intensive care”.
When giving evidence to the ET, Sir Benjamin “made wide-ranging and lurid allegations about the claimants and their relatives, without any substantiation whatsoever, in respect of their character, financial position and other matters”. The ET found that these allegations were “entirely fanciful and prompted by a desire on his part… to ‘throw some dirt’ at the Claimants.
The appeal tribunal held in London and president over by a High court judge, Mr Justice Martin Griffiths, threw out a case from Sir Benjamin to say he should not pay the surcharge. He said he would appeal.
He told me: ” The sum I am being asked to pay is totally disproportionate given the staff were paid about £20,000 a year. I am not against people getting pregnant, indeed I have been helpful to other staff who became pregnant. I think the judge was left wing.”
Sir Benjamin has a controversial back story. He is 75, a hereditary baronet, but has no heir. He recently advertised for a young wife as a” breeder” as he wanted two sons – an heir and spare – to succeed him.
He listed his requirements for the perfect ‘breeder’. She should be taller than 5ft 6in – ‘preferably 6ft 1ins or 6ft’ – aged between 30 and 40, and possess a gun licence. ‘Scorpios, drug users, lesbians, communists and Scots need not apply,’ he told the Daily Mail.
His quest for a wife led to a big sympathetic feature in The Sun by reporter Georgette Culley who ” auditioned” to be his wife and stayed overnight in Maunsel House. The feature is here.
He let out his other property Woodlands Castle only to find it then became the centre of a massive police investigation when a huge cannabis farm was found in the roof. Questioned by the police he denied any knowledge about it.
A Vietnamese man, Trung Nam Pham, 39, of no fixed address, was arrested after the drug bust. He appeared before Taunton Magistrates’ Court last June and was remanded in custody pending a crown court hearing.
Sir Benjamin is on the right of the Conservative Party. During the Brexit campaign he hosted a lunch for Daniel Hannan, then a Tory MEP for 84 people in Woodlands Castle to promote Vote Leave.
Now he is waiting his appeal – has not paid the two women any of the compensation – though he says he has made up their wages and the statutory maternity pay. His wedding business – at £3000 a time -has collapsed – first hit by Covid 19 and then by the prohibition order from Devon and Somerset fire services.
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