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“Extremely egotistical” solicitor fails in victimisation claim

CAB: Solicitor was difficult to manage

An employment tribunal has rejected a victimisation claim from an “extremely egotistical” solicitor who was fired by a citizens advice bureau within a fortnight of starting his job.

Employment Judge Grundy in Manchester observed that Ian Laing was “often demonstrably arrogant and sometimes obnoxious within his presentation to the tribunal”.

He was, she continued, “undoubtedly a very difficult individual to manage who did not wish to take direction from others”.

Mr Laing started working at Bury and Bolton Citizens Advice Bureau on 20 May 2019 in a non-solicitor role of immigration adviser.

The tribunal said: “He perceives himself to be superior to others and of higher status, in part this may be due to his qualification as a solicitor since he showed his certificates to fellow employees without request.

“His skewed and uninformed perception would cause grave concern that he lacks the skills to perform the role to which he had been recruited as such a role would require understanding, sensitivity and good social skills…

“At the tribunal hearing to the judge and the members, the claimant presented as extremely egotistical and emphasised at every turn his qualification as a solicitor and a perceived superiority.”

Within a very short time, his behaviour was causing problems with other members of staff. In his second week,  according to his line manager, one female member of staff (Ms PJ) asked Mr Laing if he was getting the train as she was leaving the office. Mr Laing gave her a “stern stare” and said: “Are you talking to me?”

Mr Laing alleged that Ms PJ actually said, “Are you coming?”.

If this was the case, Judge Grundy ruled, then “his reaction to a perfectly plain and simple question… was quite frankly bizarre and perplexing as the claimant invites some sort of innuendo and criticism of [Ms PJ] for posing this question to him.

“This was a simple question about travel arrangements as two employees potentially had some overlap of the same train journey to make.”

In a meeting on 3 June, Mr Laing complained to his manager that he did not feel he was being tested and considered Ms PJ “unprofessional”.

The following day, he emailed his manager to warn that Ms PJ may make a “false allegation” against him.

However, before that email was seen, he had been dismissed on the basis of his interactions with colleagues, going beyond the remit of his role and not being happy in the post, as he had made clear he wanted to do solicitor-level appeal work.

Mr Laing contended before the tribunal that, in the meeting with his manager, he had asserted sexual harassment by Ms PJ, saying she “had taken an interest in him which he rebuffed”.

The tribunal rejected this. It said the discussion was “him complaining about [Ms PJ] being ‘unprofessional’ in his personal view because she did not conform to his prescripts about how people should react and behave”.

It went on: “The allegations by the claimant regarding asking about getting a train and the station events were bizarre in the manner in which such complaints were couched by him.

“When heard by [his manager], she did not understand any of the complaints to be an allegation of harassment on the grounds of sex.

“The claimant may have tried to give a particular emphasis to attempt to fit the statutory criteria of the victimisation provisions latterly but the tribunal does not accept what the claimant did was a protected act in relation to events on 3 June or 4 June email.”

Even if it was, that was not why he was fired. “The tribunal considers that the cause of claimant’s dismissal wholly related to his own reprehensible conduct by his difficult behaviour across the board with colleagues and management, in a matter of less than two weeks in new employment with a charitable organisation.”

It said the 4 June email was “a pre-emptive strike” driven by “the claimant’s own warped perceptions of his working environment”, rather than out of malice or bad faith.

“It is patently obvious at times he cannot rein himself in nor take direction and often responds alleging he is affronted whilst not seeing or understanding the offence he could be causing to someone else…

“The extent of the claimant’s hostile animus to anything, which did not accord with his view for the majority of the time, was the tribunal would observe and conclude very wearing and quite wearying.

“The tribunal considers this must have been the experience of those working alongside him and trying to manage the claimant.”

We reported in June [1] that, at an earlier hearing, Judge Grundy rejected claims of bias by Mr Laing, who made and then retracted a request to replace her with a male judge.