A legal assistant sacked after promoting violence against Muslim children and ‘jokes’ about the paedophilia of Jimmy Savile and taking class A drugs on public Facebook posts had their claim for unfair dismissal over her pregnancy dismissed by an employment tribunal.
Leanne Livesey had, according to the tribunal ruling, posted a ‘joke’ about gravely assaulting Muslim children by throwing boiling water over them during a water fight – and given the public nature of the horrific content, it took little time for management to find them, as evidenced by a screen recording presented to the tribunal.
When Senior Associate at Slater and Gordon Victoria Higgins scrolled through the publicly accessible timeline of Ms Livesey, they were “appalled at the nature of the posts, which in her assessment expressed racist views, joked about Jimmy Savile’s crimes against children, and joked about taking class A drugs.”
The Facebook search, however, was pure chance. Ms Higgins, when scrolling one evening, saw the profile of Ms Livesey appear under “People you may know” on Facebook
It came hours after a probationary meeting that detailed Ms Livesey’s performance that fell far below expected standards. It was during this meeting that mention of a hospital appointment came to the attention of senior staff.
Concerns about a hospital appointment and its validity stuck with Ms Higgins, given the pandemic and the short notice of the appointment, only raised during the probation review meeting.
Her curiosity convinced her to click on Ms Livesey’s profile as Ms Higgins maintained concerns about her poor performance, unaccounted working hours, and a sudden hospital stay. Curious to see if they had shared anything about their hospital stay, Ms Higgins, however, was instead horrified by what she found – and in disbelief that a colleague could hold such abhorrent and harmful views.
After raising the issue with HR and in evidence to the tribunal, the judgment noted how “it would have taken very little time and effort to see the offensive posts in question” and judged Ms Livesey’s response “objectionable and wholly inappropriate” when questioned about the content on her Facebook.
The violent post towards Muslim children and the posts about Jimmy Savile caused Ms Higgins the most alarm, given their number of Muslim clients (some of whom could easily find the content), leaving her feeling physically ill.
At present, the firm is representing victims of the Manchester Arena terror bombing and had once represented the survivors of Jimmy Savile’s paedophilic sex crimes.
Given the firm’s role of working with those impacted by catastrophic injuries, bereaved families (many who had experienced loss from road accidents) required deep empathy from the staff at Slater and Gordon – the opposite of what appeared on the Facebook wall of Ms Livesey.
The meeting that followed felt like a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ scenario for Ms Higgins as when they presented the Facebook posts, Ms Livesey proved “really defensive and did not say much” who declined an offer of legal advice, nor could they provide any explanation for the horrific content. Instead, arguing that the content pre-dated her employment with the firm, despite the most recent flagged most having appeared online three months before their employment began and never denied making the posts.
Dismissing Ms Livesey proved difficult, given her pregnancy and the unemployment levels during the pandemic, but given the severity of the content coupled with their poor performance, the only suitable outcome would be to terminate their employment, both contributing factors in the loss of trust. As the tribunal noted, “these posts were so awful, in the opinion of Ms Higgins, that she definitely did not trust her after having read these and she did not want to work with someone who held those types of views.”
Pregnancy or not, Ms Higgins would have arrived at the same conclusion: they failed the probationary period with one week’s payment in lieu of notice.
Dismissing the claim of discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy, the tribunal ruled that it would prove “simply inconceivable in the face of the Facebook evidence that (she) was dismissed in any way at all because of or by reason of or in connection with her pregnancy.”
Following the ruling, Miss Livesey apologised to Ms Higgins, as reported in The Mirror newspaper and other media outlets.