Case Studies

Dr Bronckaers constructive dismissal case settled for £1.25m

7 minute read

John McShane, Solicitor with McCartan Turkington Breen and Dr Bronckaers, constructive dismissal claimant

Employment law case study

Dr Tamara Bronckaers was employed by the Veterinary Service Animal Health Group, part of the Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA), as a veterinarian. She worked with livestock across Northern Ireland in her role.

Whilst conducting her duties, she noticed that some Market Operators were not adhering to their statutory duties and responsibilities. This resulted in serious animal welfare concerns relating to neglect. There were also concerns about food safety and traceability within the supply chain. It appeared to her that DAERA officials were aware of this and failed to enforce the relevant legislation.

When the vet and animal lover raised this with her employer, she was met with hostility.

Dr Bronckaers was ethically obliged to resign from her employment

Dr Bronckaers said: “During my 19 years in the Department, I tried to do what was right and I couldn’t carry on doing a job that I wasn’t being allowed to carry out ethically. For my own sanity and mental health, I made the very difficult decision to leave the job. My whole family has suffered as a result, but my husband and kids knew what I was going through and I had their full support.”

Constructive dismissal claims & compensation

Dr Bronckaers contacted McCartan Turkington Breen for legal advice. She spoke at length with John McShane during a free initial consultation during which John explained that she had a strong constructive dismissal case. This is when an employee feels they have no other option but to leave a position. You can learn more about it at Constructive Dismissal: What is it and what to do about it?

The whistleblower vet instructed John to proceed with her case with the intent of seeking justice for both herself and the animals that she cares so deeply for.

Industrial Tribunal and Fair Employment Tribunal Northern Ireland

John issued proceedings against DAERA. They denied the allegations, so the matter was set to proceed to Industrial Tribunal and Fair Employment Tribunal. A hearing took place over several days.

John McShane’s client won her constructive dismissal case

At the conclusion of the case, the Judge ruled in favour of John’s client. However, DAERA quickly appealed the Tribunal’s decision. John noted the appeal with surprise given how strong the case was and how unlikely it would be for an appeal to succeed.

The appeal was reported on in the Belfast Telegraph by journalist and author of the best selling RHI scandal book, Burned, Sam McBride.

DAERA dropped their appeal, apologised and settled the claim for £1.25 million

After several months and mounting media criticism, DAERA dropped their appeal. The government body apologised to Dr Bronckaers and John entered settlement negotiations. The matter was settled for £1.25 million. The settlement is the largest of its type ever in Northern Ireland.

Speaking to the press upon the conclusion of the case, John said: “I’m relieved for Dr Bronckaers that the outcome of the case has vindicated her instruction of McCartan Turkington Breen.

However, this is bittersweet in the context of an employer willing to make spurious allegations against Dr Bronckaers to paint her in a negative light, which resulted in a committed individual losing her job when she had done nothing wrong. It is also concerning that lessons are not being learned by the Northern Ireland Civil Service and this case is akin to the RHI scandal.”

Dr Bronckaers continues to speak out

Upon the conclusion of her case, Dr Bronckaers was interviewed by the Belfast Telegraph about the far-reaching consequences of what she had highlighted. During the interview, she said: “Only for John McShane, my solicitor, I wouldn’t have got through this.”

The Nolan Show

The case continued to draw a media frenzy and Stephen Nolan of BBC Radio Ulster’s The Nolan Show dedicated a number of episodes to following the story. He asked John what others might do if found in a similar position as Dr Bronckaers.

The case and the extraordinary revelations that came from it were discussed in detail during an extended episode of The Nolan Show. Stephen Nolan interviewed Dr Bronckaers, Sam Mcbride, Nicola Mallon of the SDLP, John McShane and others.

Nolan said: “That government, that building up there, Stormont. They talk about empowering women and protecting women. They hung a woman out to dry.”

You can listen to the full episode here:

You can download a copy of the Judgement referenced throughout this episode of The Nolan Show.

Our employment law specialists can help you too

If you have a problem at work that resulted in your constructive or unfair dismissal, we may be able to help. Visit Employment Law to learn more about our services. Alternatively, contact us for a free and confidential initial consultation with an employment solicitor.


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