An employment tribunal ordered to reconsider the damages it awarded to a paralegal subjected to foul-mouthed tirades by the senior partner of a London law firm has reduced them by 20%.
Mahbooba Shirin originally received £46,900 for injury to feelings, including £5,000 aggravated damages and interest, although she had claimed £1m from Wilson Barca LLP.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal rejected the firm’s arguments that the tribunal had been wrong in principle to make awards but found there were errors in how the award was calculated and remitted it to the same tribunal.
The original tribunal established in 2018 that Ms Shirin suffered six acts of harassment.
On two occasions, she was subjected to harassment on the grounds of gender, 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, 55 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.
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 over £1m for the whole loss of her career.
Looking again at the award in the latest hearing, Judge Pearl said the injury to feelings for the individual tortious acts “could be said to be absorbed in the overall injury to feelings that she experienced as the weeks and months went by in this office”.
As it was impossible to identify the extent to which the individual heads of claim magnified her hurt and distress “in any scientific way”, the various causes of upset overlapped and so there was a risk of double recovery.
The judge reduced the award for injury to feelings by 20% and confirmed that there was “an evidential basis” for awarding aggravated damages, but reduced these by 20% too.
With the same uprating as applied in the original decision and more interest, the final figure was £41,500 – ultimately only £4,400 less than first time around.
However, Judge Pearl awarded the respondents’ costs of £10,000 in recognition of Ms Shirin’s “unreasonable” remedy claim based on whole career loss.
“We concluded that, but for these tortious acts, the claimant would have resigned at the same point in time. Beyond this, the career-long loss was unexplained.
“Even if the claimant had overcome problems of causation, the loss of income for the remainder of her working life was never a realistic claim.”
The respondents had sought nearly £48,000, which would have reduced Ms Shirin’s award to nil. The judge rejected Ms Shirin’s claim for costs.