A City solicitor who brought proceedings against her former firm – only for that firm to go into administration – can proceed with her claim against the purchasing party, a tribunal has ruled.
Jo Tunstall, who was with international firm Ince & Co for more than 11 years, made a claim alleging unfair dismissal, pregnancy-related discrimination, sex discrimination, part-time worker discrimination and disability discrimination after parting company with the firm last October.
Ince went into administration in December and was subsequently partly bought by listed firm Gordon Dadds LLP (now known as Ince Gordon Dadds). For the purposes of Tunstall’s claim, it was alleged Gordon Dadds was the transferee of the Ince business for the purposes of the transfer of undertakings (protection of employment regulations (TUPE).
Tunstall has also claimed against six individuals who were members of Ince & Co. No further details of the nature of Tunstall’s claim have been revealed.
The employment tribunal initially stayed all proceedings under the Insolvency Act, but employment Judge Foxwell ruled in March that there was no reason to stay proceedings brought against the members and Gordon Dadds – effectively allowing the claim to progress. He accepted the tribunal had no power to lift the stay of proceedings affecting Ince & Co.
Gordon Dadds and the respondent individuals challenged that decision in the employment appeal tribunal earlier this month. They argued the decision had the effect of continuing the claims against Ince & Co, and the judge had failed to take proper account of the prejudice they would suffer over legal advice privilege, given the remaining respondents would not have access to documents held by Ince & Co.
The prejudice argument was also made on the basis that individual respondents faced ‘potentially career-ending risks’ from the case, given they would be required to report any adverse findings of discrimination to the SRA.
On appeal in Ince Gordon Dadds LLP & Ors v J Tunstall & Ors, Her Honour Judge Eady QC dismissed the appeals. She said the ET had taken proper account of the risk to professional reputations and of the difficulties arising in respect of disclosure and questions of privilege.
Notwithstanding the potential vicarious liability of Ince & Co, the Insolvency Act did not require the tribunal to continue the stay in relation to the rest.
She added: ‘I do not think the ET lost sight of the overriding objective – the need to deal with the case fairly and justly – in determining whether it was right to lift the stay in respect of the claims against the [members and Gordon Dadds].’
A spokesperson for Gordon Dadds said the firm did not wish to comment.