Judge backs 'witch hunt' plaintiff
An employee at a championship golf course was forced out of her job as part of a "witch hunt" after claiming a married female member had "squeezed" the club secretary's bottom, an employment tribunal has found.
The judge ruled that Margaret Chadwick was unfairly dismissed after she mentioned claims Aldeburgh Golf Club secretary Bill Beckett - nicknamed the "Ayatollah" because of his "dictatorial behaviour" - was having an inappropriate relationship with the married woman.
The club, which serves the well-heeled residents and second-homers in the wealthy seaside town of Aldeburgh, in Suffolk, was ordered to pay Ms Chadwick £50,000 by the tribunal.
Trouble flared in September 2012 when rumours began circulating at the club that something inappropriate happened between Mr Beckett and Juliet Brereton at a barbecue.
Days later Mrs Chadwick was in the club's back office when she heard Mrs Brereton say "Bill, everyone loved the barbecue and I loved squeezing your bottom. Let me squeeze it again."
She looked in and saw Mr Beckett standing over the photocopier and Mrs Brereton trying to squeeze his bottom.
Fearing the genteel 130 year-old club would be engulfed by scandal, Mrs Chadwick had an informal word with club captain Jane Reiss-Watson about what she had seen.
A few weeks later she was suddenly presented with a letter suspending her from work and escorted from the premises after managers caught wind of the chat.
A litany of statements from other club members were amassed against Mrs Chadwick as part of the disciplinary process and she was dismissed two months later.
In a ruling, the tribunal stated that Mr Beckett had been likened to the Ayatollah at his previous golf club, "a reference to his dictatorial manner and approach to staff, clearly used to getting his own way, in an overbearing and, on occasions, aggressive and intimidating manner".
It added: "It is also clear, despite Mr Beckett's attempt to hide it, that he is a blunt man, used to getting his own way and whether part of his background or culture can come across overbearing and bordering on aggressive."
Mrs Chadwick joined the club, home to England's second oldest heathland course, in May 2008 and was highly regarded until Mr Beckett joined in April 2012.
Within weeks of his arrival Mr Beckett criticised her performance and issued her with a written warning, the tribunal in Bury St Edmunds was told.
When she complained, she was told by the then club captain that his behaviour did not amount to bullying and "there had been no violence against you".
The judge lambasted this ruling, which he said showed "amazing ignorance, naivety and total misunderstanding of bullying and harassment".
Mrs Chadwick was accused by the club of spreading rumours "for the purpose of undermining Bill Beckett's position and harassing him".
But this was dismissed by Judge Postle, who in the ruling stated: "As counsel for the claimant says, one cannot get away from the feeling that the claimant was the victim of nothing short of a witch hunt, given the fact of her previous unblemished service prior to the arrival of Mr Beckett."
The tribunal heard that both Mr Beckett and Mrs Brereton vehemently claims anything inappropriate happened between them.
Tim Rowan-Robinson, captain of Aldeburgh Golf Club, said in a statement: "The club has followed professional legal advice and acted in good faith throughout this whole process.
"The outcome of the tribunal hearing was disappointing and was not the result we and our legal team had expected. The club has now settled Mrs Chadwick's claim which is covered by insurance.
"The club refutes claims over secretary Bill Beckett's behaviour which was fully investigated at the time.
"This has been a trying time for all involved and we now want to put the matter firmly behind us.
"We value our staff highly and their welfare has always been of paramount importance to the club and its members. We continue to have full confidence in our secretary Bill Beckett."