Insurance giant Norwich Union is applying to use the Human Rights Act to crush an embarrassing defeat in an employment rights case.
The move is believed to be unprecedented, as the human rights law is supposed to protect individuals, and not an £18bn corporation.
After an 18-month fight for justice, underwriter Russell Griffiths won his case for breach of contract against Norwich Union at Brighton County Court on January 3.
His Honour Judge Michael Kennedy QC found that Griffiths was effectively made redundant.
But his victory was short-lived when Norwich Union lodged an appeal on Friday, the last day permissible.
It claims its basic rights were infringed when its lawyers were unable to make a submission at a crucial point in the case “in accordance with natural justice, and the right to a fair hearing in article six of the Convention on Human Rights as enacted by the Human Rights Act 1998”.
Griffiths reacted with dismay at Norwich Union's action. He said: “I have gone through a tremendous amount of stress and strain in the past 18 months and was due to receive a final settlement on Friday.
“But this has now been frozen because of Norwich Union's appeal.” His self-funded legal costs of up to £30,000 have also been held over.
He believes the insurer wants to challenge his win because it could set an important precedent for the way staff are redeployed in companies following a merger.
“My case challenges the use of generic job terms whereby an individual can be made to carry out almost any work a company sees fit, and is viewed by a firm as a tradeable commodity,” he explained.
Griffiths was an underwriting manager for London & Edinburgh (L&E) in Worthing, specialising in high-value commercial property and terrorism reinsurance work for
His problems began shortly after the insurer was taken over by Norwich Union in 1998. He subsequently lost up to 40% of his responsibilities when most of L&E's specialist commercial property and Pool Re work was moved to
Griffiths was then obliged to re-apply for his job in a way the judge described as having the “quiet dignity of a rugby cup final in driving rain”.
Then on March 15, 1999, Griffiths and his underwriting colleagues were issued with a letter notifying them they were to be made redundant – the letter was never formally withdrawn.
Indeed, the judge said Norwich Union seemed to “go on as if it had not been sent”.
In April 1999, Griffiths reluctantly accepted a new job title but was left with a substantially diminished role. By August 1999, he felt he could no longer continue in this new role and left.
Judge Kennedy lashed Norwich Union for the way it handled Griffiths's case: “It does not help to sound critical, but one has to say that in various ways it seems to me Norwich [Union] managed, whether accidentally or not, to add considerably to the confusion, uncertainty and one might say distress at London and Edinburgh.”
Griffiths said he would contest Norwich Union's appeal if it was granted. “I will come out fighting.”
Norwich Union said it would be inappropriate for it to comment on the legal document detailing its appeal.