Age discrimination solicitor awarded £13k in damages

Manchester employment tribunal: Solicitor would not have got on with firm’s owner

An experienced property solicitor who won a claim of age discrimination after being rejected for a job at a law firm, has been awarded damages of £13,200.

Nearly half of this was aggravated damages for the aggressive way Cheshire-based McHale Legal conducted its defence, which included threats to report the claimant, Raymond Levy, to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

In the liability ruling we reported last week, Employment Judge Langridge in Manchester said the tribunal was satisfied that the reason Mr Levy, 57, was not offered the position – despite being the only person interviewed – was that “he was considered expensive and that this was indeed synonymous with his being an experienced and older solicitor”.

In the newly published remedy ruling, the tribunal concluded that, had Mr Levy’s application gone further, he would have got the job.

It rejected owner Andrew McHale’s evidence that he would have been put off by the fact Mr Levy had worked for 30 firms since qualification; for much of that time he worked as a locum or on a series of temporary engagements with well-known commercial firms in London.

Had he been given the chance, Mr Levy could have explained the background, and the tribunal said: “The quality of the firms for whom the claimant had worked would have been attractive to the respondent, even if their number was not… In March 2018 the respondent had a need for urgent assistance, and both parties envisaged at the time that the appointment might be short-term.

“We therefore conclude that their intentions were compatible and the CV was not likely to have been a major obstacle.”

Mr McHale also related “some very negative comments which he said had been made” by one employer he had contacted for the purposes of his statement to the tribunal, and asserted that this would have been fatal to employing Mr Levy.

Mr Levy had an explanation for this, but anyway “Mr McHale’s evidence ignores the fact that the claimant, not the respondent, would have been the one to identify an appropriate referee,” Judge Langridge said.

The tribunal found McHale Legal would have employed Mr Levy, but as a self-employed contractor – which the solicitor had offered and had spent much of his career working on that basis – on a week’s notice. Mr McHale agreed that he would have paid him £45,000.

But the tribunal concluded – and Mr Levy acknowledged – that his role would not have lasted long for two reasons.

First was the “clash of personalities which we believe would inevitably have arisen”. The tribunal said: “We accept that the claimant’s personality would not have been a good fit from Mr McHale’s point of view… and accept the respondent’s case that the relationship would not have endured for a significant length of time. That would inevitably have led to a parting of ways, for non-discriminatory reasons.”

The second reason was that the firm ceased handling commercial property work in the months following the interview, as Mr McHale “felt the level of work in that field was not necessarily sustainable in the longer term”.

The tribunal decided that Mr Levy’s appointment would have lasted for one month before he was given a week’s notice.

As Mr Levy found employment in-house at the London Borough of Harrow towards the end of those five weeks, his mitigated loss of earnings was £1,700.

He was awarded a £4,000 for injury to feelings. “The injury was caused by the loss of an opportunity for a short-lived job until the next position came along, and overall the claimant was left in the same career position as previously. He was able quickly to obtain better-paying work (which he hopes may be long-term) and this helped ease his financial worries.”

A further £6,000 was awarded in aggravated damages over and above the initial injury from the act of discrimination, because of the way the firm conducted its defence and the threat to report Mr Levy to the SRA, which the tribunal accepted could have had potentially career-destroying consequences

Judge Langridge said: “Having discriminated against the claimant because of his age, the respondent’s subsequent conduct of the tribunal proceedings added considerably to the injury. Its aggressive and threatening stance was offensive to the claimant and demonstrated to the tribunal that the claim was not being taken seriously.

“The respondent appeared to be outraged that a claimant should allege discrimination, and at no time did it contemplate the possibility that there might be merit in the claim.”

The rest of the £13,200 was made up of interest.

We have approached Mr McHale for comment.

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