An employment tribunal has been ordered to reconsider the £47,000 in damages that it awarded to a paralegal subjected to foul-mouthed tirades by the senior partner of a London law firm.
Mahbooba Shirin received the award last year, less than 5% of the value of her claim, against Wilson Barca LLP.
The original tribunal established that she had suffered six acts of harassment.
On two occasions, Ms Shirin had been subjected to harassment on the grounds of gender under the Equality Act 2010, when senior partner Richard Barca, who was “unrestrained in abusing employees”, called her a “stupid cow” and a “stupid cunt”.
Employment Judge Pearl said: “There is no question that these remarks had the effect of creating a degrading and hostile environment for her.”
The judge also found that Ms Shirin, 54 this year, had been subjected to harassment on the grounds of age, this time as a result of four separate comments made by another employee, Mr Barca’s personal assistant who was described as “a linchpin of the firm’s administration”.
However, her other claims failed – most of the incidents cited did not amount to harassment because she received the same kind of general abuse that all staff at Wilson Barca did.
At the remedy hearing, Judge Pearl rejected Ms Shirin’s argument that the harassment caused her mental breakdown.
Rather, it was the general behaviour of Mr Barca that was the cause, but this was not prohibited harassment – it was, Judge Pearl said in the liability ruling, “an essential element in the defence, that he has a very short fuse, gets angry when he considers that things have not been done correctly and he shouts and swears”.
Judge Pearl said Mr Barca’s behaviour was “unconscionably boorish” but it was “a fair assessment of the evidence” that he treated everyone in the firm rudely if they made a mistake.
Ms Shirin, who qualified as a barrister in July 2016, shortly after she quit the firm, claimed damages of over £1m.
He awarded Ms Shirin £20,000 for injury to her feelings before making adjustments for inflation, the Simmons v Castle uplift and interest. It also awarded £5,000 aggravated damages in respect of the harassment on the ground of sex. This totalled £47,000.
On appeal by the law firm, Mathew Gullick, a deputy High Court judge sitting in the Employment Appeal Tribunal, rejected the arguments that the tribunal had been wrong in principle to make awards.
He said the tribunal was “clearly entitled” to find that this was a case in which the claimant’s feelings were substantially hurt
Mr Gullick continued: “In my judgment, the employment tribunal was entitled to find that [Mr Barca’s] actions in calling the claimant a ‘stupid cow’ and a ‘stupid cunt’ were not only insulting but oppressive and that an award of aggravated damages was, in principle, one that was open to it.”
However, he did uphold the submission that the tribunal calculated the award for injury to feelings incorrectly, and failed to explain properly why a further award of aggravated damages was necessary to provide appropriate compensation, “or what the additional impact was on the claimant of the aggravating features of [Mr Barca’s] conduct.
The appellants said the assessment of compensation should be remitted to a different panel of the tribunal for redetermination, while Ms Shirin said it should go back to the same panel.
Mr Gullick agreed with her: “The tribunal’s decision is far from being wholly flawed; the liability judgment has not been challenged and the remedy judgment has been found wanting in what is, in my judgment, a relatively limited respect.
“Both sets of reasons are otherwise conspicuously clear and comprehensive and it is evident from both the liability and remedy judgments that the panel has throughout the proceedings been able to approach this case in an even-handed and professional manner.
“I have no doubt whatsoever that it will continue to do so when the issue of the amount of the award of compensation is re-determined and that it will do so with an open mind as to what that award should be.”