“I solemnly swear I am up to no good”- JK Rowling successful in case against former employee

Author: Siobhán Lafferty

April 15, 2019

In a recent Scottish case, an employer was able to recover monies which an employee had fraudulently spent in the course of her employment.  The employer was not your average one – but rather the author of the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling. 

Employers will sometimes consider the possible need to seek to recover monies from former employees for a variety of reasons. This can sometimes be in claw back situations e.g. contingent maternity pay or bonuses or where an overpayment has occurred by mistake. In many such cases practical or even PR difficulties can arise for employers in getting that money back.  However, in Joanne Murray (aka JK Rowling) v Amanda Donaldson, there was a rare win for the employer in a civil case before the Scottish courts.

Ms Donaldson was employed as the famous author’s personal assistant.  It was alleged that she had committed fraud, through fraudulent misrepresentation, in four ways:

  • She used a business credit card to purchase goods which were for her own use;
  • She used a business credit card to withdraw cash for her own use;
  • She used the business bank accounts to buy foreign currency which she kept for herself; and
  • She removed Harry Potter merchandise from JK Rowling’s Edinburgh office for her own use.

The employee accepted that she had no entitlement to use the business credit card or bank account for her benefit, but claimed the transactions had in fact been authorised by JK Rowling.  She also argued that all of the foreign currency had been bought and spent by JK Rowling on trips with her family, with little left over.

However, the judge did not believe this evidence and described her as being ‘capable of persistent dishonesty’.  He considered that on the balance of probabilities the employee had committed fraudulent misrepresentation.  She was therefore ordered to repay over £18,000 that she had fraudulently obtained from the author for cash withdrawals, point of sale purchases and foreign currency.  However, Ms Donaldson was not found liable for fraudulent misrepresentation in respect of the missing Harry Potter memorabilia which had been in JK Rowling’s office.

Those that may wonder as to whether JK Rowling needed the money will note the statement issued after the case by the famous author which stated that “the decision to take this matter to court was a last resort and not for her personal benefit, but rather to protect the reputation of her existing staff, and to make sure Ms Donaldson is not in a position to breach the trust of another employer”.  The money will go to JK Rowling’s charity, Lumos.

Whilst in general it is still likely that, practically, employers may have some difficulty recouping money from former employees, this case does highlight the possibility of being able to do so – and arguably a judge is more likely to be sympathetic to an employer where there are elements of fraud involved.

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