Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission

Claim for denied contractual benefits barred by Deed

The Full Bench has unanimously dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Commission that found that a claim for denied contractual benefits should be dismissed on the basis that the application was barred by a Deed of Settlement and Release (Deed) between the parties.

The appellant at first instance argued that she signed the Deed under duress and was threatened that if she did not sign the Deed, she may be dismissed.

The Commissioner at first instance found that the pressure exerted on the appellant to sign the Deed was not ‘undue’ because ‘it did not involve any actual or threatened unlawful conduct by the Respondent’. In addition, the Commissioner found that the appellant, though stressed, was under no special disadvantage, and the appellant did not breach or threaten to breach the contract.

On appeal, the appellant argued that the Commissioner erred in law by failing to consider or properly consider the issue of actual or threatened breaches of the appellant’s contract, and whether this constituted duress and a threat.

Chief Commissioner Scott, with whom Senior Commissioner Kenner and Commissioner Walkington agreed, found that the since the respondent had given the appellant an option to either sign the Deed or face disciplinary action, and that the appellant knew and understood that she was not being threatened with dismissal, there was no duress or threat. Further, the appellant had received independent advice from an industrial agent prior to signing the Deed and was told by the respondent that she must not sign the Deed under duress.

The Full Bench also dismissed the appellant’s argument that the respondent’s conduct constituted unlawful conduct amounting to the tort of deceit because it had not been argued before the Commission at first instance. The Full Bench also found that:

  • The Commissioner at first instance was correct in finding there was no contractual duty on the respondent to act with good faith;
  • That there was a legitimate reason for suspicion of wrongdoing by the appellant as the basis for commencing disciplinary proceedings; and
  • It was in the public interest for the parties to be bound by the agreements.

The Full Bench found that, as no error had been identified, the appeal should be dismissed.

The decision can be read here.

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