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Hotel manager wins unfair dismissal claim against Macdonald Hotels

27 June 2014
Hotel manager wins unfair dismissal claim against Macdonald Hotels

A hotel manager who was sacked after "a campaign" by the new owners to dismiss her has won her claim for unfair dismissal.

Jan Hampton, who owned Egerton House, in Bolton, for seven years until it was taken over by the Macdonald Hotels & Resorts company, claimed she was the victim of "bully-boy tactics".

Mrs Hampton, 52, had remained a director and a 25% shareholder in the business following the takeover but was dismissed in August 2012.

An employment tribunal, in Manchester, heard how Mrs Hampton had acquired the 29-bed hotel in 2003 with the backing of Macdonald.

But their relationship later turned sour when she clashed with fellow directors James Davidson and Chris Wayne-Wills.

Mrs Hampton claimed she was put under "pressure" to comply with the Macdonald's wish to rebrand the hotel in their name and her objections were one of the reasons she was sacked as general manager.

But the company claimed she was dismissed for her poor performance and they rebranded the hotel, which closed earlier this year, to improve its fortunes.

Mr Wayne-Wills told the hearing that he had wanted to "turn round" the "failing" hotel, believing it "couldn't survive" as an independent.

"The point of rebranding was to improve the performance of the hotel," he said.

"The hotel was failing and business at the hotel was poor in relation to other hotels in the area."

Mrs Hampton had invested £100,000 in the hotel and remained a minority shareholder when Macdonald took control of the hotel in 2010 by changing the type of shares it owned.

She claimed she was bullied into accepting a compromise agreement which allowed Macdonald to change the shares and then "harassed" by Mr Davidson into signing a refinancing agreement that left her liable for the company's £340m debts.

"There was a campaign of bully-boy tactics to make me agree to the change in shares," she said.

"Eventually I agreed to a compromise agreement because I heard from the bank who would not provide any more funding. I was backed into a corner."

Mrs Hampton claims she was "bombarded" by calls from Mr Davidson about the refinancing agreement while she was on holiday in Australia, which he denied.

She claimed to have raised several grievances with the company prior to her dismissal that were simply "ignored".

The tribunal heard she how she had objected to signing off the hotel's accounts due to a £179,000 charge made by Macdonald for shares which she believed was fraudulent.

Mr Wayne-Wills denied that a fine imposed for the late submission of the hotel's accounts had been a way of "pressuring" Mrs Hampton and that her opposition to the rebranding and concern about the charge had led to her sacking.

"The decision to dismiss Mrs Hampton related to performance and the financial performance of Egerton House," he said.

The tribunal heard how Mr Wayne-Wills had brought in a new general manager at the hotel when Mrs Hampton went on sick leave due to work-related stress.

Andy Hill, representing Mrs Hampton, told the hearing that the move was a "part of a campaign to get her out", but this was denied by Mr Wayne-Wills.

He ruled that Mrs Hampton had been unfairly dismissed - but rejected her claim that she was sacked for making "public-interest disclosures" - adding that had Macdonald "adopted fair procedures" there was "a 50% chance" she would have lost her job in any event.

He also rejected her claim that she'd been the victim of sexual harassment by her fellow directors.

The tribunal will make a decision on the compensation to be awarded to Mrs Hampton on 22 July.

Egerton House's closure meant the loss of 25 full and part time jobs and eight wedding bookings had to be rearranged.

Speaking at the time, Mrs Hampton said: "I am extremely upset after hearing about the pending closure.

"I put 10 years of my life into that hotel and it is such a shame. Although the hotel changed ownership in 2010 I still have shares in it and I am still a director."

Speaking earlier this year David Guile, chief executive of Macdonald Hotels & Resorts, said: "The hotel was a joint venture and was never really representative of the brand in terms of quality.

"We're now reviewing the potential of the property and it may be sold or converted into a private residence.

"We certainly don't have plans to close any more hotels."

By Ian Leonard

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