A former housekeeper to House of Lords baroness Michelle Mone and her billionaire husband Doug Barrowman has won a claim for unfair dismissal.
Deborah Wendy Lace has been awarded £22,500 by an employment tribunal after losing her £42,000 a year job at the couple’s £25 million mansion in St Mark’s.
Ms Lace took her claim for unfair dismissal against island-based Langham Ltd, for which Mr Barrowman is a director. Lingerie tycoon and entrepreneur Baroness Mone had no connection with the company but Mr Barrowman told the tribunal that for the past few years she had been the ’lady of the house’.
The complainant, who began working as housekeeper at the couple’s estate in October 2008, was called into a meeting by Baroness Mone in June last year and given an envelope containing notice of termination of her employment.
No reason for termination was given in the notice letter, the tribunal heard. Ms Lace described this as a ’bolt out of the blue’.
Langham denied unfair dismissal.
The tribunal heard that in the summer of 2019, Mr Barrowman and Lady Mone had planned to move to Jersey and put their Isle of Man home up for sale.
A potential foreign buyer was found who wanted to keep on the three staff - a chef/butler and two housekeepers including Ms Lace.
All three signed contracts of employment in anticipation of the estate changing hands but then the sale fell through last April due to the Covid pandemic.
There were still plans to move to Jersey and the purchase of a house there was agreed subject to contract. Local purchasers of the St Mark’s estate were also found.
The new buyers were not going to take on any staff immediately although there were discussions about rehiring them later in the year.
Staff started packing boxes of personal items that were going to the couple’s London property until the purchase in Jersey was completed.
On June 23, the complainant was handed her notice and told that she was not required to work her three months’ notice.
However, not long afterwards the sale of the estate fell through - as did the purchase in Jersey due to a significant issue on the survey.
In written evidence, Langham director Timothy Eve explained that Mr Barrowman and his wife had ultimately decided to remain in the Isle of Man where the couple got married in November.
Mr Eve explained that they had enjoyed the island life to the extent that further expansion of the main residence was being undertaken. The other two staff have remained in employment but the complainant has not been replaced.
He said Ms Lace had been made aware verbally on many occasions in the 6-8 weeks leading up to June 23 that her position was going to be redundant and there were no alternative positions to offer.
But the complainant challenged Mr Eve’s evidence and insisted it had been her belief that there would be a job for her, whether the estate was sold or not.
Mr Eve acknowledged that the process undertaken may have fallen short of ’certain standards’ and that ideally Mr Barrowman, rather than Lady Mone, should have handled the meeting on June 23 to hand over his letter.
In her evidence, Ms Lace said nothing had ever been put in writing at any time regarding her terms and conditions of employment until February 2020.
Besides extended duties involving travelling, her main employment had been working Monday to Friday from 8am to 4pm. She would care for the children and generally do ’anything asked of her’.
Ms Lace said she had had a ’difficult’ relationship with Lady Mone after an incident in May last year when she was told she had been expected to come into work on a Bank Holiday.
After that she said Baroness Mone could barely speak or look at her and it was obvious that the atmosphere had changed.
The tribunal concluded that the principal reason for the complainant’s dismissal was not because of redundancy but was because of the breakdown in the relationship between her and Baroness Mone.
It awarded her a total of £22,515.00 - £20,355.00 for unfair dismissal and a further £2,160 for failing to give her terms and conditions of employment in 2008.