Vexatious litigants are people who persistently take legal action against employers and other businesses, regardless of the merits of the claims, either in the hope of persuading the business of making a settlement to get rid of the inconvenience of the claim, or because they are on a mission to cause as much harm to the business as they can. The time and expense involved in dealing with a vexatious litigant is a harrowing prospect for any employer.
There are several options available to the Courts and Tribunals to prevent vexatious litigants pursuing numerous claims which are without merit.
First, the Employment Tribunal has the power to strike out all or part of a claim that it considers "scandalous or vexatious or has no reasonable prospect of success". Where an employer feels they are being targeted by a vexatious litigant, the employer can make an application to the Tribunal to strike out a claim on this basis.
Second, the Attorney General can apply to the EAT for a Restriction of Proceedings Order ("RPO"). The EAT will grant such an order where a claimant has persistently, and without any reasonable grounds, instituted vexatious proceedings or made vexatious applications in current proceedings. An RPO prevents an individual from bringing further claims or making further applications without permission from either the EAT or a High Court Judge. These orders are rare and are usually granted where the application for an RPO is in the public interest.
Third, if an employer is faced with proceedings in the High Court or Civil Court bought by a vexatious litigant, the employer can apply for a Civil Restraint Order ("CRO"). There are three types of CRO, depending on severity:
- Limited CRO - prevents the litigant from making further applications in the current proceedings without formal permission from the court;
- Extended CRO - prevents a litigant issuing claims in specified courts for a period of two years (this can be renewed for an additional two years); and
- General CRO - a breach of this order equates to contempt of court and is punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment.
The effectiveness of a CRO was recently seen in the case of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP v Popa . In this case, Mrs Popa resigned and received an unfavourable reference from PwC. Subsequently, she brought countless claims against PwC, including claims of race discrimination, constructive unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal, most of which were struck out. The Tribunal found that the reference did not prevent Mrs Popa from obtaining alternative employment.
Mrs Popa brought a further 25 claims, which PwC claimed had led to the harassment of its staff. Consequently, the High Court granted a General CRO against Mrs Popa to stop her bringing continuing claims which were having a detrimental effect on both PwC and the management of court time.
Whilst obtaining a court order such as an RPO or CRO may amount to substantial time and expense, they can be extremely effective and may be the only way an employer can eliminate claims from a vexatious litigant.