John worked for British Airways as a licensed aircraft engineer for more than 27 years. But he was dismissed after an error on a maintenance task, when he sought to repair a mistake by a colleague, on a day when BA was very short staffed.
He appealed against the dismissal as he had an exemplary career and BA had recorded the error as having little or no airworthiness risk. But, although his appeal was successful, British Airways would only agree to reinstate him as a mechanic, a position several grades lower that would see him lose his status as a licensed aircraft engineer.
John resigned and pursued a claim of unfair constructive dismissal with the support of his union Prospect and barrister Lance Harris of Old Square Chambers who represented John at the hearing.
His case was heard in the Glasgow tribunal from 23-27 March. The tribunal agreed that demotion was such an extreme and disproportionate sanction in the circumstances that it amounted to constructive dismissal.
Speaking after the ruling on Friday John said: “It is essential that any moves to undermine the status of the licensed aircraft engineer are opposed.
“I could not have done this without the support of the union’s Association of Licensed Aircraft Engineers branch which has seen me through this very difficult time.”
Prospect full-time officer Malcolm Currie, who along with union representative Keith Rogers gave evidence to the tribunal, said: "Thank goodness John was a member of Prospect or he would have been left to try to fight this without any resources or support. It's so important for people to join a union."
“If the employer had been successful in dismissing John under these circumstances the effect would have been to inhibit other engineers from reporting incidents to ensure the industry is as safe as it possibly can be.”
Marion Scovell, head of Prospect Legal, said: “This is a great result. Constructive unfair dismissal cases are very difficult to win because the law creates a very high hurdle for claimants. In this case the tribunal found that the decision to demote Mr Higgins was disproportionate and I’m delighted that they found in his favour.”