Imagine the scene. Disgruntled senior employee (M) is fired from large law firm. M wants to publicise his “impressions of the current culture" of the law firm and especially their “ongoing struggles… with women in the workplace” in breach of his employment contract. M informs managing partner and senior partner of his intention to give interviews on this topic. Law firm views this potential breach of confidence as a reputational risk and potential damage to the individuals at the centre of the alleged incidents, whose identity may be exposed. Unsurprisingly, law firm seeks an injunction to prevent the disclosure. 

In the case of Linklaters v Frank Mellish [2019] EWHC 177 (QB), Mr Mellish took the slightly unorthodox approach of informing Linklaters what information he intended to share and when he intended to do it, to allow Linklaters time to “prepare for the questions from the media". Clearly this was Mr Mellish’s mistake. If you intend to rat on your former employer and expose the identity of its employees, it is best not to warn them in advance. Any sensible organisation will take immediate steps to restrain the disclosure. 

The court is wary of granting injunctions against absent third parties so despite Mr Mellish’s non-attendance, Mr Justice Warby considered that Linklaters had taken all practical steps to notify him. Warby J was satisfied that there was a clear threat that Mr Mellish intended to give interviews for publication about these sensitive matters, and that the rights of the individuals concerned in retaining anonymity bolstered the case for granting an interim injunction. Game, set and match – Linklaters.

Whether or not Mr Mellish’s threat to give the intended interviews was a real threat, Linklaters had a legitimate interest in seeking to protect the interests of those involved in the “specific examples” that Mr Mellish sought to disclose. Without the injunction, it risked disincentivising valued employees from participating in internal grievance procedures, where there is an expectation of confidence, and where those concerned wanted to maintain anonymity. The injunction was, of course, not unhelpful in additionally containing any damage to Linklater’s reputation arising from how it dealt with the incidents in question in the first place.

In the final twist to this tale, it was reported today that a settlement has been reached; Mr Mellish will destroy the relevant confidential documents and will instruct any third parties who had received them to do the same. It seems that relying on the confidentiality clause in an employment contract and the impending risk of reputational damage is enough to convince the courts to provide relief. Good luck to Mr Mellish’s next employer!