Who? Louise Curtis, 47, head of legal services at shop workers’ trade union Usdaw.
Why is she in the news? Curtis acted for 4,400 redundant shop workers denied protective award compensation of up to 90 days’ gross pay when liquidators closing down the retail chains Woolworths and Ethel Austin failed to consult with them.
Some 30,000 staff were made redundant when the retailers went into administration. In January 2012, Usdaw won protective award compensation for 25,000 former staff on the grounds that the administrators had failed in their statutory duty to consult them prior to redundancy.
However, 4,400 former employees of the chains were deemed ineligible for the award because they worked in a shop or other business unit employing fewer than 20 people – according to section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, only ‘establishments’ employing 20 or more people are obliged to consult.
In May 2013, the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that the excluded staff should be included in the scheme. The government appealed the decision and the Court of Appeal referred the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union. The CJEU agreed with the government.
Thoughts on the case: ‘We were very disappointed by the decision. We don’t think it reflects how modern businesses are run.’
Dealing with the media: ‘The media struggled with the complicated legal concepts in this case. Once we could show the reality of top-down modern management decision-making, they could see that the law does not properly reflect that Usdaw members in the smaller stores should have had the same rights as those in larger stores.’
Why become a lawyer? ‘I wanted justice for the underdog.’
Career high: ‘Acting for a disabled client against Ryanair, which had charged him for use of a wheelchair. We won at first instance and at the Court of Appeal.’
Career low: ‘Acting for a mentally ill tenant of Lewisham Council, evicted for sub-letting his flat. We expected certain provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act would be overturned by our arguments and he would be rehoused. It didn’t happen.’