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Case Summary - Tribunal Practice and Procedure

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Mr R Kahn v Vignette Europe Ltd UKEAT/0134/09/CEA

Mr Khan was employed as a telemarketer by Vignette Europe Ltd in March 2005. By all accounts Mr Khan was very good at his job, but the employment relationship became strained. Mr Khan had raised grievances about his remuneration package and career development. Eventually the working relationship was so badly damaged that Mr Khan was suspended awaiting a disciplinary hearing to be heard in June 2007. When he was suspended Mr Khan handed over his laptop in accordance with Vignette Europe Ltd's policy. On inspection of the laptop, Vignette Europe Ltd found that Mr Khan had been accessing pornographic and other inappropriate internet sites during working hours. Vignette Europe Ltd cancelled the scheduled disciplinary hearing and dismissed Mr Khan for gross misconduct.

Mr Khan brought proceedings against Vignette Europe Limited for unfair dismissal, unpaid wages and discrimination on the grounds of sex, religion and age. The proceedings were protracted involving two Pre-Hearing Reviews and a Case Management Discussion, but eventually the Tribunal set dates for the hearing in April 2008. On the day of the hearing Mr Khan notified the Tribunal that he was unwell and the hearing was postponed until September 2008. Before listing the hearing again the Tribunal contacted both parties asking them to provide dates on which they would not be available to attend a hearing in September. Neither party responded.

The hearing commenced on 1 September 2008. Mr Khan made three applications to adjourn the hearing for various reasons. The third of these was made on the morning of 3 September 2008 with no notice to Vignette Europe Ltd. Mr Khan asked the Tribunal to adjourn the hearing part-heard because it conflicted with Ramadan and submitted that he wished to enjoy a period of mental and spiritual purity which would be inconsistent with a case involving the consideration of sexually explicit images. Mr Khan also asked for an adjournment in order to obtain expert evidence on the observance and requirements of Ramadan.

After carefully balancing the competing rights of the parties the Employment Tribunal refused Mr Khans application for an adjournment and continued to hear the case in his absence. The Employment Appeal Tribunal confirmed the Employment Tribunals decision. The EAT held that the Employment Tribunal's decision to continue the case did not breach Mr Khan's rights under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Tribunal had carefully balanced the legitimate, but competing rights of Mr Khan and Vignette Europe Ltd and had used its discretion. The EAT explained that the Claimant's religious views and his right to a fair hearing were not a ‘trump card' but an important factor to be weighed against the rights of Vignette Europe Ltd and the public interest. The EAT also noted that Mr Khan had failed to take even the most basic steps to avoid a hearing being fixed at a time which coincided with Ramadan.

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