A senior executive at the Automobile Association (AA) has been forced to apologise to a co-worker in open court for claiming she sent him a pornographic email.
Gordon Cartwright sent an email to union officials and HR representatives at AA in April 2007 accusing a "female colleague on the Hotel Services senior team" of sending him "an unsolicited and deeply offensive email containing graphic, hardcore pornography".
In context, the reference to the "female colleague" could only have been understood to refer to his co-worker Jayne Wyatt, a person with whom he had a "strained" personal and professional relationship.
According to court documents, the pair fell out over negotiations to change employment terms and conditions for AA's hotel inspection teams -- who contribute to well known AA rating guides for hotels and restaurants in the UK. Ms Wyatt was opposed to the changes, while Mr Cartwright was keen to support them and encouraged staff to accept new terms.
The publication of the allegations caused Ms Wyatt "immense hurt, distress and embarrassment", which would have been the case at any point in time, but their impact was especially severe given that they were published during a period when she was already facing the prospect of internal disciplinary proceedings because of her opposition to new contract terms. In those circumstances Ms Carwright brought a a high court defamation action to ensure, as far as possible, that her reputation was restored.
Appearing in court, Mr Cartwright acknowledged that there was "absolutely no basis whatsoever for the allegations" against Ms Wyatt. The pornographic email that he accused her of sending him was in fact "a piece of viral spam", the content of which was largely incoherent and which had first been received by Mr Cartwright on 15 January 2005 -- over 2 years before he decided to raise a complaint against her.
To his credit, Mr Cartwright said he "fully accepts and regrets" the harm caused by the allegations. Indeed, he wished to make a formal statement to this effect at Ms Wyatt's internal disciplinary tribunal in 2007 but was prevented from doing so by AA.
GMB national secretary Paul Maloney said that Cartwright had realised he had been wrong to make the accusation.
"In fairness, Gordon Cartwright tried to do the right thing when he realised he was being used by the AA," said GMB national secretary Paul Maloney.
"He realised that she might be fired, wanted to apologise and the AA refused to allow him to do it."
Ms Wyatt was ultimately dismissed from her post at the AA in October 2007 in circumstances that a separate employment tribunal hearing found to be unfair.
It is also worth noting that Ms Wyatt worked continuously at the AA for almost 29 years before her dismissal.
She is now considering further legal action against the company for blocking the withdrawal of the allegation made by Mr Cartwight during disciplinary proceedings.
- Jane Wyatt received public apology over pornographic e-mail slur (Caterersearch.com)
- Maria Jayne Wyatt v. Gordon A. Cartwright (2010) -- LTL 16/11/2010 -- Document No. AC0126592 (Lawtel)
- Defamation law (Findlaw.co.uk)
- Unfair dismissal law (Findlaw.co.uk)
- Legal Q&A (Community)
- Find a solicitor (Contact Law)