A solicitor dismissed after raising concerns about her firm to the Solicitors Regulation Authority has been awarded more than £36,000 by an employment tribunal.

Employment tribunal

Source: iStock

R Kaur, as she is referred to in the tribunal judgment, brought a wrongful dismissal claim against Gillen De Alwis Solicitors Ltd, which is in voluntary liquidation, after she blew the whistle on the firm.

Kaur, who represented herself, was employed under a two-year training contract. The property division where she worked was short-staffed and the employed solicitor who ran the department died shortly before Kaur joined.

In judgment, employment judge Leonard-Johnston said: ‘From the evidence before me it is clear that from the outset the firms’ leadership had not put effective systems in place to manage the workload of the property department, to manage human resources or to supervise the members of staff who were not legally qualified.’

The judge described founding partner Shehani De Alwis’ treatment of Kaur, after she returned from sick leave until her dismissal, as ‘bullying and harassment’.

He added: ‘I find that the respondent failed to fulfil the fundamental purpose of the training contract in that it did not provide training to the claimant. The claimant was given insufficient supervision and training, was treated as if she were a qualified lawyer and criticised for not being so, and the claimant was blamed for problems which ultimately arose out of the failure of the firm’s management to properly supervise and manage the practice.

‘The respondent also breached the implied term of trust and confidence by subjecting the claimant to behaviour that constituted bullying and harassment.’

Kaur raised concerns about the practice ‘numerous times’. She ‘genuinely believed that the breaches of the SRA code were having a negative impact on the clients of the firm and that it was in the public interest for the firm to be held accountable’, the judgment said.

It added: ‘The claimant was seriously concerned about the disorganisation and lack of management, because of the negative impact that this was having on the clients of the firm who were receiving a poor service. The claimant viewed the issue as a matter of protecting consumer rights.’

Kaur's grievances, raised with the firm’s HR function, received no response. She was dismissed ‘without any investigatory or disciplining procedure, or any notice’. The reasons given for the termination was Kaur’s behaviour and that she was in breach of her training contract, claims which were dismissed by the judge.

He said: ‘I do not accept that the claimant was incapable of being trained or of meeting the standards required of her. The claimant was committed to her profession and is an intelligent and diligent person. The claimant showed herself in these proceedings to be capable of communicating in a clear and professional manner both orally and in writing.

‘The claimant was not given proper training or supervision and was being held to an unreasonably high standard. She was subjected to bullying and harassment and yet was sufficiently committed to her profession that she endured the unreasonable behaviour of her employer. I find that any failures in the service being provided to clients during the claimant’s employment were primarily down to the respondent failing to manage its practice appropriately and failing to properly train and supervise its staff.'

The judge found the firm was not entitled to dismiss Kaur without notice as she was not guilty of gross misconduct.

Finding Kaur had been unfairly dismissed, the judge added: ‘Particularly in relation to the timing of her dismissal, I find that the claimant has established it is more likely than not that the reason for her dismissal was the complaints she was making about the firm’s management.’

Kaur was awarded £36,062 for her unfair dismissal claim and was awarded a further £362, the statutory one-week notice period, in relation to the breach of contract.