EAT upholds USA sovereign immunity on appeal in two US Air Force cases

29 June, 2022

(1) Mrs A Webster v The United States of America, (2) Miss C Wright v The United States of America [2022] EAT 92

The Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) has upheld the State immunity of the USA in respect of the claims of two former employees who worked at US Airforce (USAF) bases in the UK. Mrs Webster worked in the USAF records management department at a USAF base; while Miss Wright worked in the USAF fire and emergency service at several USAF bases.

The EAT (HHJ James Tayler) rejected the argument that the Employment Tribunal (EJ Foxwell) had applied the wrong legal test when finding that Mrs Webster and Ms Wright were, by their employment, engaged in the performance of the United States’ sovereign functions such that the principle of State immunity operated to deprive the Tribunal of its jurisdiction. The EAT held that the ET did not err in its analysis of the functions performed by the Appellants and had reached a factual determination that was open to it.

Moreover, the EAT found that the ET had upheld State immunity on the separate and additional basis that if the claims were permitted to proceed they would involve an impermissible “judicial investigation” into the USA’s specific policies and objectives in the areas of record keeping and firefighting. The EAT found that while challenging this finding was not part of the grounds permitted as part of the appeal, it nonetheless considered that the ET’s findings of immunity on this additional basis were factual determinations that were open to it.

Read the EAT Judgment here.

Professor Dan Sarooshi QC and Andrew Legg appeared for the United States of America, instructed by Michael Burd and Emma Delap of Lewis Silkin LLP.