A former trainee solicitor who complained about his work regime within weeks of starting his contract has lost his claim for unfair dismissal for whistleblowing.
Employment judge Postle, sitting at the tribunal in Norwich, said the now-admitted Richard Attoe had disliked being supervised during his training period and was ‘confrontational’ when mistakes were brought to his attention.
It was ruled that Attoe was not dismissed by his former firm, Norfolk practice KJL Solicitors, for making protected disclosures and did not suffer detriments. He was, however, awarded £550 for unlawful deduction of wages and unpaid expenses of £120.
The judge said: ‘It is quite clear in this case that the claimant throughout his employment could not accept criticism or his shortcomings and whenever these were put to the claimant he became defensive.’
The judge noted that Kerry Joan-Law, the firm’s principal, was an honest and credible witness who was prepared to accept her own shortcomings over Attoe’s employment.
The judge added: ‘Set that against the claimant who under cross examination was evasive, who had to be frequently warned to answer a simple and straightforward question put to him. He was disingenuous, particularly in the events leading up to the transfer of his training contract. He was clearly an obstructive and confrontational individual who appeared to have his own agenda in seeking compensation from the respondent.’
Attoe brought claims for automatic unfair dismissal and detriments, as well as for unpaid wages, failure to pay the minimum wage, breach of contract, refusal to permit rest breaks and unpaid balance of his training allowance. The alleged disclosures were about his perceived lack of training and later about a heavy workload and ‘scatter gun approach’ to his training.
Attoe, a former journalist now in his 40s, had begun as a trainee solicitor in March 2017 on an annual salary of £15,000, with a top-up £3,000 training budget.
But within weeks, the tribunal heard, it was clear that tensions had arisen between Attoe and another solicitor at the firm. Attoe raised concerns early on about the quality of his training, while email exchanges showed concerns about how he was handling matters.
By the end of April, Attoe was ‘clearly unable’ to accept he was a trainee whose work must be supervised.
Later in 2017, an issue arose regarding an incorrect bill which descended into a row in the office between the principal and trainee, during which the claimant was said to be ‘somewhat aggressive and confrontational’.
After discussions with another local firm, Joan-Law informed Attoe she would release him from his contract so he could transfer, if he resigned his position.
As a result of an ‘impasse’ between the parties, and a meeting that was ‘confrontational on both sides’, Attoe was made redundant and given one month’s notice. He completed his training contract with the other firm.