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Oxford student who claimed he wasn’t allowed to take breaks while working on Princess Diana’s family estate Althorp loses age discrimination case

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An Oxford student who claimed that he wasn’t allowed to take breaks while working on Princess Diana‘s family estate Althorp has lost his age discrimination case. 

Thomas James, who worked summers and Christmas breaks at the 13,000-acre Althorp estate when he wasn’t studying at the University of Oxford, alleged he wasn’t allowed to have rest breaks or take lunch during nine hour shifts.

The young worker even claimed Earl Spencer, Diana’s younger brother Charles, once ‘chastised’ him for leaving his post for respite at the estate near Northampton.

Mr James, now in his early 20s, sought damages from Earl Spencer’s estate for age discrimination and constructive unfair dismissal.

But an employment tribunal dismissed the case and judge Robin Postle ruled that Mr James’ claims ‘do not stack up’ and ‘lack any credibility whatsoever’.

In regards to the claims Mr James was ‘chastised’ by Earl Spencer, the tribunal accepted evidence from the Earl ‘that this allegation never took place’ and that ‘the event did not happen in any event’.

Thomas James alleged he wasn't allowed to have rest breaks or take lunch during nine hour shifts. The young worker even claimed Earl Spencer, Diana's younger brother Charles (pictured), once 'chastised' him for leaving his post for respite at the estate near Northampton

Thomas James alleged he wasn’t allowed to have rest breaks or take lunch during nine hour shifts. The young worker even claimed Earl Spencer, Diana’s younger brother Charles (pictured), once ‘chastised’ him for leaving his post for respite at the estate near Northampton

Diana, Princess of Wales, with her brother, Viscount Althorp, who later became Earl Spencer

Diana, Princess of Wales, with her brother, Viscount Althorp, who later became Earl Spencer

The 13,000-acre Althorp Estate was the late Princess of Wales' childhood home and is currently owned by her brother Charles, the 9th Earl Spencer

The 13,000-acre Althorp Estate was the late Princess of Wales’ childhood home and is currently owned by her brother Charles, the 9th Earl Spencer

Mr James, from neighbouring village Great Brington, began working at Althorp in 2019 when he was at school.

He later went off to the University of Oxford but would work summer seasons at Althorp, as well as Christmas periods.

His summer work was split between the main Althorp House and the East Gate, where he would oversee traffic coming in and out from suppliers, couriers, and tradespersons.

In 2022, Mr James suffered sun stroke and a more rigid approach to his breaks was introduced, the tribunal heard.

A tribunal report said: ‘Following an incident in 2022 when Mr James’ had sun stroke he would arrange with [his manager, Lisa] Cessford to take his break and be replaced by a relief.

‘Since he suffered sun stroke in 2022 the East Gate has been considerably refurbished and was now a building consisting of an office set up with kitchen and bathroom facilities.

‘Mr James had no fixed hours, his hours fluctuated each week and [estate] under the terms of engagement agreed he was engaged on a casual basis with no obligation on either side to either accept or offer hours of work.

‘Clearly he was aware of his right to take rest breaks. From the evidence what happened in 2022 (reference to sun stroke) thereafter Miss Cessford organised and arranged his relief and rest breaks.

‘In 2022, it is clear Mr James was contacting Miss Cessford when on the gate to arrange breaks through his own telephone. This arrangement would continue with Miss Cessford in 2023.’

In July 2023, Mr James messaged his boss Miss Cessford telling her he was ‘really enjoying’ his work at Althorp and asked for a permanent role as he was due to finish his final university year remotely from home.

Since the estate was not open to the public all year round, Miss Cessford said they couldn’t give him a permanent gate job but would explore other roles.

However, on August 13, 2023, frictions occurred over lunch breaks, the tribunal was told. Mr James had not complained at all in the summer of 2023 about not being able to take breaks.

It was heard that on August 13, Mr James’ mother sent ‘increasingly heated emails’, claiming her son ‘had not been able to take lunch breaks’.

The Grade I listed stately home has been in the aristocratic Spencer family for more than 500 year

The Grade I listed stately home has been in the aristocratic Spencer family for more than 500 year 

Diana with her brother Charles at their home in Berkshire in 1968

Diana with her brother Charles at their home in Berkshire in 1968

Mr James resigned formally the next day, citing ‘no breaks or lunch breaks during a nine hour shift’ and ‘lack of duty of care and loss of trust and confidence’.

At the tribunal in Norwich, Mr James said ‘on deciding to take a break during one of the shifts in June 2023, in going to sit in his car, the Earl saw him and chastised him for leaving his post’.

But the tribunal found he was ‘inconsistent’ in his claims as his account of the allegation with the Earl had changed since his first account.

Employment Judge Postle said: ‘It has to be said that Mr James was inconsistent and disingenuous in not only his evidence but the lead up to his resignation.

‘Particularly a few weeks before his resignation he liked working on the East Gate so much he wanted a permanent position, whether on the Gate or some other position within the Estate.’

The judge said that because a minor issue over payment of wages was cleared up, there was no reason Mr James wouldn’t have spoken to his bosses about breaks.

Judge Postle said: ‘It simply does not stack up when Mr James was perfectly able to email Miss Cessford about his wages and about a permanent position on the East Gate and yet fails to mention anywhere, at any stage, he was a little concerned, or words to that effect, that he was not getting his full entitlement to rest breaks.

‘In the Tribunal’s mind, if Mr James had asked for breaks in 2023 and not been afforded them he clearly would not have been backward in raising the issue, as he did over his pay and wanting a permanent position.

‘The Tribunal concluded there was absolutely nothing in the evidence which would suggest a difference in treatment because of Mr James’ age.

‘Mr James was perfectly able to arrange his shifts in 2022 via Miss Cessford.

‘Mr James was not a shrinking violet and was not backward in coming forward and one assumed throughout June and July Mr James was working on the East Gate that he was taking his breaks.

‘He knew previously that if there was a problem with his breaks, to contact Miss Cessford.

Princess Diana grew up at Althorp alongside her brother and sisters and, following her death in 1997, she was laid to rest in a tomb on a lake that sits within the grounds

Princess Diana grew up at Althorp alongside her brother and sisters and, following her death in 1997, she was laid to rest in a tomb on a lake that sits within the grounds

‘He did not, in 2023, raise it until the last couple of days 12 and 13 August 2023 when his resignation came about.

‘One cannot ignore also the fact that Mr James was clearly happy in his job on 23 July 2023, otherwise why would he be asking for a permanent job on the East Gate if he wasn’t getting his breaks?

‘It simply does not stack up. It lacks any credibility whatsoever.’

Mr James lost claims of age discrimination, unfair constructive dismissal, and part time worker unfavourable treatment.

The Earl gave evidence at the hearing, according to the tribunal report.

Official tribunal documents show Mr James sued ‘The 8th Earl Spencer Family Settlement’, the family trust which is in Princess Diana’s late father’s name.

The 13,000-acre Althorp Estate was the late Princess of Wales‘ childhood home and is currently owned by her brother Charles, the 9th Earl Spencer. The Grade I listed stately home has been in the aristocratic Spencer family for more than 500 years.

Princess Diana grew up at Althorp alongside her brother and sisters and, following her death in 1997, she was laid to rest in a tomb on a lake that sits within the grounds.

Today, the estate – and Lady Diana’s grave – is a popular tourist attraction and the home of Earl Spencer, 60, and his family.



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