Solicitor’s disability and sex discrimination claims thrown out

Employment dispute: Bonus claims out of time

An employment tribunal has struck out a clinical negligence solicitor’s claims of sex discrimination and that she was disabled.

Johanne Ward has made a series of other claims against Essex firm Sternberg Reed which are ongoing.

Judge Alexander Green heard that Ms Ward was dismissed in September 2022. Sternberg Reed said this was because of redundancy as it had decided to close down the department. Ms Ward, however, contended that her dismissal was unfair, was an act of direct race discrimination (she is a black British woman of Caribbean descent) and that she suffered victimisation.

The solicitor also brought a number of disability related and part-time workers/indirect sex discrimination claims, with complaints regarding non-payment of historic bonuses.

Ms Ward alleged that, in February 2019 and again in March 2022, she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

She maintained that her condition was an impairment, and that she was disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.

Sternberg Reed sought to strike out the disability and part-time worker/indirect sex discrimination claims and Judge Green agreed.

He held that the disability related claims have no reasonable prospect of success. “Mrs Ward, contrary to what she states in her disability impact statement, and in her particulars of claim, has never received a diagnosis of anxiety and depression from a GP or other medically qualified doctor,” he recounted.

“Mrs Ward has suffered from anxiety in 2019 and in 2022. This was connected to work-related stress. She had two periods of sickness absence. However, both periods were substantially less than 12 months.

“Since leaving her employment, she has not suffered from work-related stress, although she has experienced some stress arising from these tribunal proceedings. Her health appears to have improved.

“I accept that her psychotherapist expressed the opinion that Mrs Ward had low- level reactive depression in April 2019, but this was clearly linked to problems that she was having at work. Mrs Ward’s stress was caused by her difficulties at work, which in itself does not amount to a disability.”

The claims of non-payment of bonuses were limited to the years 2017/18 and 2018/19. These were out of time, Judge Green said, and so struck out the indirect sex discrimination/part-time workers discrimination claim.

The annual bonuses were “discrete stand-alone exercises” rather than part of a continuing series of acts, meaning the claims were “significantly out of time”.

“I do not accept her argument that she was only able to advance these claims after being provided with information from Steenberg Reed last year. If she was unhappy about the fact that she was not paid a bonus in those years, she could have raised a grievance at the time.

“As an experienced litigation solicitor, she would have been well aware of the importance of time limits for issuing proceedings. It is telling that she has not taken exception to bonuses
that were declared after 2018/2019.

“There are no just and equitable grounds to extend time to allow these claims to be heard by the tribunal.”

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