The employment tribunal has rejected claims that a firm offered to take on a tetraplegic pupil as a publicity stunt, finding that it genuinely wanted to help him become a barrister.
Hilary Meredith Solicitors, which specialises in litigation for military personnel, was accused of offering a tetraplegic paralegal a pupillage for marketing purposes. The claimant – named in the judgment as Mr S Arnold – argued that the firm did not really intend to help him, and made allegations of harassment related to disability.
A dispute arose after the Cheshire-based firm agreed in 2019 to help the claimant undertake a pupillage. The non-practising element of the pupillage was due to take place at Exchange Chambers and the remaining six months on the firm's premises. However, the pupillage never ultimately went ahead because no funding was in place for the time at Exchange Chambers.
Before the tribunal in Manchester, the claimant alleged that the firm had used his disability for marketing purposes, only to withdraw or renege on the pupillage offer. Hilary Meredith Solicitors denied this, saying it had offered to pay the claimant for his six months at the firm but not for the six months with Exchange Chambers, and that they would have been willing to go ahead on this basis had the claimant been able to secure the extra funding.
In judgment, Employment Judge Slater found that the harassment complaints were not well founded and that Hilary Meredith Solicitors had not primarily made the offer for marketing purposes. ‘The offer was made to assist the claimant to achieve his ambition of becoming a barrister. Any publicity was done with the expressed agreement of the claimant at the time,’ it said.
It also ruled that Hilary Meredith and other board members ‘clearly spent a very considerable amount of time trying to find a solution to enable the claimant to achieve his aspiration of qualifying as a barrister’ and had not agreed at any time to pay the claimant for the six months he would spend at Exchange Chambers.
‘We do not consider there were any steps which the respondent should have taken at the time to ensure that the claimant could undertake his pupillage before making the offer and/or announcement of the pupillage. The respondent held back from issuing a press release until they were informed by the claimant that the Bar Standards Board had approved the application.’