Solicitor ordered to pay costs after failed unfair dismissal claim

Tribunal: Unreasonable to continue case

A solicitor has been ordered to pay costs for his conduct of a failed employment tribunal claim against his former law firm.

Costs do not follow the event in the tribunal but Employment Judge Craft held that Mr A Coldridge had been unreasonable in pursuing his claim after Winchester firm Just Family Law had made an offer to settle.

He had claimed unfair dismissal, automatically unfair dismissal for making a protected disclosure, and discrimination on the grounds of age and/or sex.

A man in his mid-50s, the solicitor began working for Just Family Law through an agency in June 2019 before being taken on permanently.

In June 2021, he was given three months’ notice for “performance and business-related issues” arising from his time recording and billing, the tribunal recorded.

Mr Coldridge had argued that he was treated less favourably than female and/or younger employees because he was not provided with secretarial support and was exposed to the risk of redundancy when such colleagues were not.

He also claimed that, during his gardening leave, on 23 July, he was summarily dismissed for whistleblowing because of concerns he had set out in a letter a week earlier about an alleged potential breach of GDPR by the firm.

The firm said he was dismissed for gross misconduct because he made “derogatory and unprofessional remarks about the respondent’s owner to a courier who had attended at his home to collect property belonging to the respondent”.

At a preliminary hearing last November, Mr Coldridge accepted that he did not have two years continuity of employment at the date of dismissal, meaning his claim for ordinary unfair dismissal fell away, and he withdrew the allegations of sex and age discrimination.

That left his claim relating to the protected disclosure he made on 13 July 2021 – even though he was dismissed nearly a month earlier.

Further, the letter did not disclose information, the judge held. “At best it raises a concern about a potential unparticularised breach of GDPR.

“The claimant… explained to the tribunal that in addition to a potential unparticularised data protection issue, he had a concern that the owner of the respondent had been gossiping about him and others.”

This meant had been “seeking rather than disclosing information” and so there was “no reasonable prospect of establishing that he made a qualifying disclosure”.

Even if there was, the judge continued, the solicitor had “no reasonable prospect of establishing that this was the sole or principal reason for his dismissal on 23 July 2021” – which the law on whistleblowing says it must be.

The firm made clear at the time that he was dismissed because of his alleged behaviour towards the courier and Just Family Law did not have to prove it had happened that way.

There was no reasonable prospect of him showing that his dismissal was brought forward to an earlier date because of the letter and so the claim had to be struck out.

The law firm applied for costs of £2,500, including its counsel’s brief fee of £1,000, for the 10 weeks from when it made an offer to settle the claim.

Judge Craft said: “The tribunal gave the claimant credit for withdrawing three claims at the start of this hearing although it considers that this concession could, and should, have been made before the hearing.

“It was unreasonable of the claimant to have pursued the proceedings further after receipt of the respondent’s letter of 16 September.”

He ordered Mr Coldridge to pay the brief fee.

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