Mr Bentley described himself as a ‘photographer and entertainer’ in the claim forms that he presented to various Employment Tribunals. However, a more accurate description of his career, according to a recent case in the Employment Appeal Tribunal, might as well be ‘serial pursuer of hopeless cases’.
Mr Bentley’s modus operandi was to offer his services as photographer and entertainer to various businesses, or to apply for various jobs and then, if he was not offered any work or did not hear back, to issue an Employment Tribunal claim for age discrimination and other undefined forms of disability discrimination and victimisation. So far, so depressingly familiar, many employers will think. However, where Mr Bentley distinguished himself from many would-be litigants was in his sheer industriousness as he generated 31 such claims in only 28 months.
However, lest we be impressed by Mr Bentley’s Stakhanovite output and inadvertently applaud him for his efforts at a time when many are bemoaning the national work ethic, this is also the point at which Mr Bentley let himself down rather. Having raised numerous purely speculative (or, in the EAT’s own words “self-evidently mis-conceived and hopeless” claims), one may have thought that Mr Bentley would try at least to maximise his return on investment by pursuing the claims vigorously in order to force settlement. Instead, as the EAT noted, “it is of significance that in respect of none of the 31 applications to the Employment Tribunal has he ever attended any scheduled hearing. In respect of 19 of them, they have been dismissed: because they were not actively pursued; because he failed to attend a listed hearing; because he requested that the claims be withdrawn; or because he failed to comply with Tribunal orders.”
The EAT then went on to compare Mr Bentley to some of the other notable ‘serial litigants’ of our time, noting with some awe that the number of claims qualifying them as such were 13, 24 and 33, (with the chap who had brought 33 claims doing so over a very relaxed 9 years, as opposed to Mr Bentley’s 31 in 28 months).
Despite his neglect of his various cases, Mr Bentley had found time to write appeal letters to the EAT that were described as ‘intemperate’, being judicial code for ‘downright rude and nasty’. For obviously entirely unrelated reasons, his appeals were all refused before they reached the hearing stage.
Unsurprisingly an application was made by the Attorney General to protect public and private purses from Mr Bentley by ensuring that he could not bring any more Tribunal claims without written permission from the EAT. Learning less than one might have hoped from the dismissal of all his claims, Mr Bentley failed to engage with this case either. In his absence, the EAT channelled its inner Queen Victoria and delivered a judgement that was deeply scathing of Mr Bentley’s cases and his conduct. Indeed the need to protect the reputation of the Tribunals and the EAT was invoked. The upshot? Mr Bentley is indefinitely banned from bringing Tribunal claims without first getting a note from the Attorney General.
The lesson – if you are going to bring serial or vexatious claims, do at least make an effort to look as though you think they have some prospect of success, even if no-one else does.