The Supreme Court has ruled a man who built models for Lord of the Rings production company Three Foot Six Ltd was an employee, not an independent contractor, and can now sue for unjustified dismissal.

The unanimous decision, released yesterday, overturns a majority decision of the Court of Appeal and restores the earlier verdict of the Employment Court

The case was seen as having costly implications for the film industry where workers were generally seen as independent contractors.

But James Bryson had argued he was an employee of Three Foot Six and was able to pursue grievance claims against the company, the Supreme Court judgment said.

Mr Bryson could only bring a claim for unjustified dismissal if he was an employee. "The question of whether Mr Bryson was an employee or an independent contractor was ultimately one of fact and the Employment Court had not been shown to have committed any error of law in reaching its decision," a statement from the Supreme Court said.

"The majority of the Court of Appeal had been wrong to substitute its view for that of the Employment Court judge."

Mr Bryson was made redundant by Three Foot Six and alleges unjustifiable dismissal. The Supreme Court said that section 214 of the Employment Relations Act limited appeals to the Court of Appeal to significant questions of law.

As the Employment Court had not made any errors of law, the Court of Appeal had been wrong to overturn its decision.

In the Court of Appeal, two of the three judges had accepted that applying the Employment Relations Act to the film industry would increase costs and uncertainty.
In the Supreme Court, Mr Bryson's lawyer Mike Gould argued that two of the Court of Appeal judges appeared to agree that he was an employee, but then were deflected by what was said to be standard industry practice and the wording of a one-size-fits-all "crew deal memo" containing terms for the employment relationship.

- NZPA