A solicitor has won her discrimination case against her former firm by default after its failure to respond on time to her claim.
Following a one-day hearing earlier this month at East London Hearing Centre, Employment Judge Housego rejected an application from Essex firm Fisher Jones Greenwood LLP for an extension of time to file a response. Conveyancing solicitor Carole Scott, who left the firm last July, therefore won judgment for her claims of unfair dismissal, age discrimination, disability discrimination, notice pay and holiday pay.
The tribunal heard the firm had until 11 January this year to file a response to the claim but was two days late in doing so. Applying for an extension, Fisher Jones Greenwood said it was ‘draconian’ to be deprived of the opportunity to defend the claim and said the mistake came as a result of putting the wrong date in the diary.
Senior partner Anthony Fisher, who sent the late response, said that issues with Covid-19 had ‘taken the attention’ and he had only returned to work on 11 January after a three-week break.
The judge did not consider any of these to be good reason to extend time. He described the Covid-related excuse as ‘risible’ and said that Fisher, as the head of the firm’s employment department, should have known better than to miss the limitation date in a claim against himself.
He said time limits were ‘not aspirational but are deadlines, and parties are expected to meet them’, adding: ‘A solicitor faced with a claim of unfair dismissal, and even more so with a claim for unlawful discrimination, is to be expected to give that claim the utmost attention.’
Scott had brought the claim on the basis there was ‘no genuine reason’ why she should be dismissed. She had been furloughed on a capped amount below her regular salary and was let go despite the firm stating that it was set for a ‘big bang’ in conveyancing work through the stamp duty holiday. There had been no effort to relocate or retrain her, despite this being available to other staff members, and she argued there was no evidence to support the firm’s claim that she missed her financial targets.
The judge gave no ruling on whether her case would have been successful at trial, but noted that the ‘merits of the claim are apparent from reading it’. He said the claimant should not have to face the ‘inevitable’ 12-month delay until a full hearing.
Remedy will be decided at a later date, with the firm ordered to pay Scott’s £8,100 costs in defending the extension application.