A former trade union shop steward has failed in a negligence claim against solicitors who advised him on a compromise agreement to leave his job.
Paul Langley had sued his union the GMB as well as its legal subsidiary Trade Union Legal LLP and solicitor Katharina Koester over the signing of the agreement in 2015. He alleged the advice, which resulted in him leaving work as a refuse collector with Birmingham City Council, was negligent and he should have been advised to reject the offer.
But following a three-day hearing in Langley v GMB & Ors, Mrs Justice Stacey ruled there had been no breach of the GMB’s duty of care, while Trade Union Legal gave advice appropriate to the scope of its retainer. The claim against Koester was withdrawn during the hearing.
The court heard that Langley had been suspended in 2014 by the council for speaking to the press without permission about an initiative to clear dumped green waste in the city. Langley had come to prominence in the media during an industrial dispute in 2011 and was in a group of union negotiators nicknamed ‘The Knuckleheads’.
Following his suspension, Langley was offered a year’s gross salary termination payment together with 12 weeks’ pay and outstanding holiday pay.
The judge said Langley would have had poor prospects had he gone to an employment tribunal. The GMB, which negotiated the compromise agreement, referred the case to Trade Union Law and a meeting was arranged so Langley could sign the agreement. The judge said the fact this meeting was in the GMB office did not amount to intimidation, and the fact the office was situated within Birmingham City Council did not mean there was a lack of independence.
The court heard Koester had made it ‘absolutely clear’ she was not advising on Langley’s prospects at an employment tribunal, but merely on what the terms would mean if he signed. The judge added: ‘The solicitors were not instructed to advise on the merits of the claim and there has therefore been no breach of their duties under their retainer.’
- An application by the defendant for its witness to give evidence remotely was opposed but ultimately granted on medical grounds. Dismissing Langley’s objection that he wanted to cross-examine in person, Mrs Justice Stacey said that the formality, control and integrity of proceedings could be maintained while the witnesss gave evidence remotely.