Back in January we ran a post concerning the dismissal of an Iowa dentist’s assistant because of the threat which his wife considered she posed to the stability of their marriage. We floated there the question of whether a dismissal on those grounds – anticipated repudiatory breach of contract, if you like – could be found fair or non-discriminatory under English law. Our post on 18 July confirms the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court earlier this month to uphold its conclusion that the blameless dental assistant’s dismissal was not discrimination.
So, in the interests of comparative law studies, it is most thoughtful of Liam Gallagher’s management company, Quest, to provide the makings of a parallel case in the UK. Quest is reported to have dismissed Gallagher’s PA, allegedly for “getting too close to” their asset in the wake of his much-publicised marital issues. Debbie Gwyther was pictured in a bikini with a clearly grief-crazed Gallagher as he drank cocktails and sunbathed by an Ibiza hotel pool, masking his inner pain over love-child allegations and matrimonial break-up by the simple expedient of not appearing to care remotely about either.
Clearly, Ms Gwyther cannot have been dismissed for posing a threat to Gallagher’s marriage – he had already firmly put paid to that himself. So what does “getting too close to” mean? Is it that unless the temptation of Gwyther were removed, newly-single Liam would indeed do something stupid? Is it that being Gallagher’s Personal Assistant meant in Quest’s view something more onerous and professional than filling up on his Mojitos at the poolside (though if those were Gallagher’s instructions to her, it would surely have been churlish, or even misconduct, to refuse)? Gallagher will long have realised that you can have no reasonable expectation of privacy poolside in Ibiza (though the point appears to have escaped the gentleman pictured behind him on Mail Online, who is wearing a truly atrocious pair of shorts he cannot possibly have wanted made public). If the dismissal followed Gallagher’s irritation that his jolly afternoon with Gwyther was papped, therefore, that is hardly Gwyther’s fault.
Let us say that it was Quest’s equivalent of the Iowa dentist – a fear that Gallagher’s being seen to be friendly with an eligible female risked damaging his credibility or legal position in relation to the alleged love-child or marital breakdown. Is a dismissal in those circumstances sex discrimination or a “some other substantial reason” business decision to protect Quest’s asset?
Answers on a postcard, please, but I still believe that if Quest could point to a real and objective risk of any harm to its talent from public (or suspected private) association with a member of its staff, that dismissal could be both fair and non-discriminatory. A risk is a risk, and whether it is posed by a woman in a bikini or a man in a suit, the management company has a duty to address it. Establishing that risk might take some doing in this case, (as indeed might establishing a reputation to be damaged) but in principle there is no reason why it could not work.