An employment tribunal has comprehensively rejected a disability discrimination claim brought by a paralegal who worked for well-known personal injury firm Ralli.
However, Employment Judge Batten criticised the law firm’s failure to check qualifications and references before the paralegal started work in the personal injury department.
The claim was against Ralli Ltd, the personal injury firm based in Sale, Cheshire, as opposed to the Manchester-based commercial firm Ralli Solicitors.
The two firms were once one, and each has three partners, two of whom – Stephen Fox and Adrian Anderson – are in common.
The tribunal found evidence given by litigant-in-person Celina Stott about her qualifications and experience to be “inconsistent and unreliable”.
Judge Batten said: “There were a number of inconsistencies between events set out in the claimant’s CV and those recorded in the medical records she produced (which were redacted in a number of places without explanation) and also between those documents and the claimant’s oral evidence.
“The claimant contended from time to time that she had a BTEC qualification, also an LLB or ‘Qualifying Law Degree’ and that she also had a BA and BSc.”
The judge said that in one email, the claimant signed herself off as ‘Miss Stott BSC [Hons] BA [Hons] LLB CILEX A.INSTU.PA’.
“Despite the mention of a ‘CILEX’ qualification in the email, the claimant did not put that in her CV, did not mention it in evidence about her qualifications and never asserted that she had such.”
However, Judge Batten also said it was apparent to the tribunal that “the recruitment of the claimant had not been handled appropriately and that a number of checks had simply not been undertaken with diligence, whilst assumptions had been made”.
The judge said the Mr Fox had in his evidence “candidly acknowledged that matters had not been handled properly and he confirmed that the respondent’s recruitment would not be handled in such a manner in the future”.
The tribunal understood that “Mr Fox was referring to the appointment of the claimant without obtaining prior evidence of her qualifications and without having satisfactory references in place before she started work”.
Ms Stott was recruited at the end of September 2017, but before the end of her three-month probationary period, the firm decided to terminate her employment, although it did not tell her until after Christmas.
Following her departure, Ms Stott made multiple discrimination claims against the law firm, along with harassment and a personal injury claim for stress and injury, although they were narrowed down before trial to six complaints linked to her mental health.
The tribunal found as a fact that “at no time prior to her dismissal” did the paralegal disclose her impairment to the law firm, nor was there “anything within the CV” to suggest that periods of unemployment were the result of ill-health, mental impairment or disability.
The tribunal found that “any employee performing routine litigation tasks with the support and training which was afforded to the claimant by the respondent, and who had produced the number of errors and incorrect work that the claimant did within a probationary period of three months, would have been subject to criticism, commented upon at an HR meeting and probably would have had their probationary period terminated as the claimant had”.
It concluded that “the claimant’s employment was terminated because the claimant was simply not performing at the standard expected of her” and “was not dismissed for any reason related to her disability”.
In a statement to Legal Futures, Mr Fox said: “We will now be carrying out even stricter checks on job applicants. For over 40 years we have run a successful firm underpinned by mutual trust and respect within our teams and any erosion of that environment is to be regretted.”