Paralegal awarded £30k over pregnancy discrimination and low pay

Employment contract: Tribunal did not believe paralegal operated under different terms

A solicitor has been ordered to pay a paralegal over £30,000 after an employment tribunal found he discriminated against her once she became pregnant.

Rashid Khan also failed to pay Ms E Preteni Shala the national minimum wage throughout her time with his firm, South London practice Rashid & Rashid.

His actions spoiled what should have been a “precious time” for her, the tribunal held.

Mr Khan is sole principal of the two-office practice, which specialises in immigration work and employs around 25 people, mainly caseworkers.

Ms Shala had been a lawyer in Kosovo but was not entitled to practise in the UK. She began working at the firm in January 2016 as an administrator before becoming an assistant case worker the following year, on a salary of £13,000 throughout. She resigned in December 2019 whilst on maternity leave.

There was a “significant amount of disagreement” over what happened, Judge Clark said, but in general the tribunal preferred the claimant’s evidence.

While she and her witnesses were “generally credible, compelling, plausible and reliable”, the majority of the evidence from Mr Khan and his witnesses was not.

The solicitor himself was “highly evasive, argumentative and inconsistent when giving oral evidence”, and significant parts of his evidence were “undermined by contemporaneous documentation”.

Further, none of his witnesses could be considered independent. “Their evidence lacked cohesion and was frequently inherently implausible in light of undisputed facts,” the tribunal added.

It found multiple instances of Mr Khan treating Ms Shala unfavourably because of her pregnancy, starting with the meeting at which she told him she was expecting. He responded that she must resign and that she was not fit to work anymore.

He then effectively demoted her to an administrative role by placing her on postal duties and not allocating her new casework, which actually increased her workload in the short term as she had to continue with her existing cases.

On various occasions, Mr Khan moved Ms Shala to a different desk, including to one in a “hot, unventilated and unairconditioned room unsuitable for a pregnant woman”.

Mr Khan failed to carry out a pregnancy risk assessment when requested to do so and was “difficult and rude” about her absences for pregnancy related scans and appointments.

“The respondent increasingly micro-managed the claimant, going beyond his micro-managing of other employees,” the tribunal went on.

“This included: (i) requiring the claimant to provide daily reports as to her work done; (ii) telling the claimant not to respond to the respondent by e-mail but to do so in a hand-written document; (iii) refusing to put his complaints about the claimant in writing to her; and (iv) telling the claimant on 7 December 2018 that she was not to leave her seat or speak to anyone during working hours.”

It said Mr Khan “appeared to wish to minimise documentary records”.

Further, despite her requests, Mr Khan failed to confirm Ms Shala’s dates for maternity leave, as well as her holiday immediately prior to the start of her maternity leave, and her entitlement to, and rate of, maternity pay.

“This was a matter which was likely to, and did, put her undue stress,” the tribunal said.

Finally, he did not handle a grievance she lodged in January 2019 “appropriately or sensitively”, including having a member of staff contacting her about it on the day she gave birth and then holding a hearing dismissing the grievance less than a month later without notifying Ms Shala about it.

Though some of these events were outside the primary time limit, the tribunal held that they were “continuing discrimination amounting to conduct extending over a period”.

Even if this were not the case, the tribunal would have considered it to be “just and equitable to extend time under its discretion to do so”.

It said Mr Khan’s behaviour “spoiled what should have been a precious time for the claimant”.

“The tribunal found that the claimant was devastated and shocked by the respondent’s initial comments and then and subsequently suffered a significant amount of anxiety and stress and felt humiliated and undervalued.”

It valued the damages for the injury to feeling at £20,000, plus interest of £6,600. But finding that Mr Khan had not intended to “wound” Ms Shala, the tribunal decided against aggravated damages.

The failure to pay Ms Shala the national minimum wage continued throughout her employment and the tribunal dismissed Mr Khan’s claim that she had worked in a very different way to how her employment contract envisaged.

It said: “The respondent, being a qualified solicitor, would have had at least a basic understanding of contract law and the tribunal considered it wholly incredible that he had signed an employment contract which so materially differed from the terms he now claims were in fact applicable.”

As this constituted a series, the tribunal said the months outside the limitation period were not time barred, up to the statutory maximum of two years. This led to an award of £5,120, making £31,720 in total.

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