Student taken on as consultant solicitor’s secretary was not employee of firm

Playboy casino: Student met with solicitor to discuss role

A law student taken on as a secretary by a male solicitor she met while a dancer at a club was not employed by the law firm where he was a consultant, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Employment Judge Martin described as “extraordinary” the conduct of the now-deceased solicitor, known only as AD, who told the student, BR, that he was “God” and she was “an obedient little slave creature”.

AD was a consultant at Eldwick Law, a firm with offices in London and Bradford. The tribunal recorded that BR was a dancer at a club in London who was also studying for the graduate diploma in law on a part-time basis.

BR’s case was that she met AD at the club and he offered her work at Eldwick Law as his personal legal secretary.

They met again at the Playboy casino to discuss it. BR “had researched Eldwick law and was excited about the possibility of working for it”.

Judge Martin said AD “acted inappropriately” towards BR from the beginning. “The claimant accepts that she was rather naïve. There were several inappropriate WhatsApp messages in the bundle.”

BR said she was offered a base salary of £14,000 per year, plus a bonus of 10% of what she billed and received, plus 5% of what AD billed and received.

“She was told not to wear shiny tights. [AD] told her that he saw a lot of potential in her and that her background in West End hospitality would be an asset as she would be able to entertain and work alongside high net-worth clients,” the judge recounted.

“She was expected to pick up clients at night when they visited high-end restaurants and bars.

“She was told that in her role, [AD] was ‘God’, and she was ‘an obedient little slave creature’; he said that was the only way she would learn and achieve her potential. She was to work four days a week initially so she could study.”

BR went on touch and audio typing courses paid for by AD. She said she was on her way to the firm’s offices on her first day when AD called to tell her to go to his house instead. She either worked there or from home.

AD did not provide a contract or take any details for paying wages. There was no induction. Although pay “had been discussed and agreed”, AD did not pay BR or reimburse expenses she incurred personally on his behalf.

She was introduced to people as AD’s personal legal secretary and not as a new employee of Eldwick Law.

AD “ultimately went to the claimant’s home and assaulted her and her four-year-old son. He was arrested by the police”.

Eldwick Law partner Waleed Tahirkheli told the tribunal that the firm did not pay secretarial staff commission. Under the terms of their relationship, if AD wanted additional support, it was up to him to provide and pay for it.

If he introduced staff to the firm, he required the authority of senior management and the person had to go through a formal recruitment process.

None of this happened. BR never went to the firm’s offices, met Mr Tahirkheli, received a contract or provided the normal new employee details.

Her case was predicated on AD’s relationship with Eldwick Law but Judge Martin found that the solicitor was unable to bind the firm.

The judge ruled that BR was employed by AD only and so dismissed her claim against Eldwick Law.

The relationship between the solicitor and Eldwick Law was an agreement for services, not a contract of service – the firm did not have control over the work of AD, “who could work when, how and where he wanted”.

BR’s counsel suggested that the termination of the consultancy agreement was evidence of its control over AD, which pointed to him – and so BR – being an employee.

The judge disagreed. “The reason for the consultancy agreement coming to an end was that [AD] was being investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, but he refused to tell the [firm] what the investigation was about.”

Eldwick Law was “understandably concerned about its reputation” and so ended the consultancy agreement. “This is not discipline in the traditional sense and does not point to an employment relationship.”

Judge Martin added: “What I have heard about [AD] is extraordinary… He acted entirely inappropriately towards the claimant, and it is surprising that she did not report him to [Eldwick] if she truly believed she was employed by them.

“Her argument that she did not want to anger him does not ring true especially after he assaulted her and her child.

“When she was not paid, she did not contact the [firm] and communicated only with [AD]. I appreciate she says that she did not want to upset [AD]; however, given his behaviour, and him not paying her, I still find it surprising that if she thought she was employed by [the firm], she did not raise these issues with it.”

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