Partner drops discrimination claims against leading firm

Tribunal: Claim withdrawn

A former partner at leading midlands law firm Shakespeare Martineau has dropped her claims of sex discrimination after they settled their dispute.

Deborah Jenkin Jones launched wide-ranging claims of sex discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, harassment and victimisation following the law firm’s decision in October 2017 to compulsorily retire her.

The case was listed for an 11-day hearing at Nottingham Employment Tribunal at the end of last month. However, Ms Jenkin Jones withdrew her claims not long before.

A spokesperson for Shakespeare Martineau said: “The firm was in dispute with a former partner, but due to the confidential nature of this, we are unable to provide comment.”

Ms Jenkin Jones said she too was unable to comment.

Published rulings from during the proceedings reveal that she had already withdrawn claims of sexual orientation discrimination and work of equal value.

At a preliminary hearing before Employment Judge Britton in March 2019, further claims were withdrawn.

First was a claim over the law firm’s failure to provide evidence in October 2017, under section 13 of the Equality Act, in support of the decision to retire her.

She did this after the judge indicated his intention to at least order a deposit payable on the basis that it had little prospect of success.

He noted that under the firm’s partnership agreement, there was no requirement to give other than written reasons, while the solicitor had offered no comparator evidence to show she was treated differently in being denied this information.

Two harassment allegations were withdrawn. The first concerned the “difficult discussion” when the solicitor was told there would be a recommendation to compulsorily retire her, but during which “the claimant gave as good as she got”, the judge noted. There was “no evidence” of oppressive behaviour towards her.

The second related to remarks made to her by two men several weeks later. The judge said: “I observe that the reference to her poor performance in terms of ‘your figures are shit’ would not of itself raise any inference that this was because of her protected characteristic of being female.”

The judge also dismissed one element of her sex discrimination claim, based on an email sent by a partner that referred to a “plan” to replace Ms Jenkin Jones, before adding: “She was dreadful at her interim review, quite proud of myself for not losing it with her.”

Judge Britton said that, under section 13, a person was treated less favourably because of “something that is happening”, which did not extend to “that which is in contemplation”.

The judge also dismissed a claim for unlawful deduction of wages under the Employment Rights Act 1996 as having no reasonable prospect of success.

Judge Britton said this was based on the fact that Ms Jenkin Jones was “ruled out of any entitlement to a bonus” in the immediate run-up to the termination of her partnership.

Since no discretionary bonus had been declared, the judge said it could not be considered to be wages, since nothing had “crystallised”.

However, he refused to strike out two victimisation claims, based on protected acts by Ms Jenkin Jones in suggesting there was a risk of discrimination in the way she was being treated by the LLP.

The solicitor claimed that the partnership had allowed her to work three days a week to accommodate child-care and other commitments, but this was being honoured in the breach, while her fee income targets had not been adjusted.

The other core claims of direct and indirect sex discrimination were not affected by the ruling.

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