Who? Michelle Gray, employment partner at Berg, Manchester.
Why is she in the news? Represented Georgina O’Brien, a teacher assaulted by a pupil who succeeded in the Court of Appeal in her claim against a school in Bolton.
Thoughts on the case: ‘Ms O’Brien’s ordeal began in 2011 when she was assaulted by a pupil at Bolton St Catherine’s Academy. Her physical injuries were not long-lasting in comparison with her mental reaction, resulting in a 14-month absence from school and subsequent termination of her employment in January 2013.
‘The Court of Appeal confirmed that the decision of the Employment Tribunal in November 2014 – that Ms O’Brien had suffered discrimination and had been unfairly dismissed – was correct.
‘At a time when schools are failing to recruit and retain teachers, this case is particularly poignant.’
Dealing with the media: ‘The case has been followed by the media and lawyers since the Employment Appeal Tribunal in 2015 for a variety of reasons, not least the facts of the case but also over the vexed question of long-term sickness absence.
‘Lawyers are not trained in PR – we are naturally cautious and want to discuss the detail. Appreciating that the detail is often not what the public are interested in reading is definitely a learning experience.’
Why become a lawyer? ‘I didn’t go to university to study law. However, when I spent time shadowing a barrister, I converted my first degree. I decided to practise employment law to retain a healthy mix of commerciality and compassion.’
Career high: ‘There have been many but after four years working on this case (which is long for an employment matter), this is one.’
Career low: ‘Years ago I represented an employer in a discrimination claim when an unrepresented claimant threw a book at me. Luckily the book hit the tribunal door instead. The claimant lost his case.’