Dentons discriminated against mother
12 January 2018
In a blistering judgment, an Employment Tribunal has found Dentons
guilty of discriminating against and unfairly dismissing an employee because she was on maternity leave.
Recruitment manager Bina Hale was hired by Dentons in 2014 to fill positions in its Milton Keynes office. When she returned from maternity leave in January 2017 she was called into a meeting with head of HR Emma Rowe and told that she was being made redundant. When Hale complained that she had out-performed the two more junior colleagues in her redundancy pool, an internal investigation by a Dentons partner supported the decision to let her go.
But the Employment Tribunal found that Rowe's conduct was "very far"
from unimpeachable. It found that the HR team had demonstrated a "complete lack
" of "objectivity...clarity and cogency
" in selecting Hale, which it did simply because she was the "easiest
" to axe as her two colleagues were already doing her work via maternity cover.
||It wasn't easy attracting top candidates to Milton Keynes.
It emerged that, "remarkably
", HR manager Suzanne Barnes did not take notes of her meeting with Rowe at which they selected Hale for redundancy. Although Barnes claimed she took bullet points, she said she subsequently destroyed them because she ran a paperless office. She also shredded handwritten notes of subsequent meetings, replacing them with a typed version after Dentons was informed that Hale had instructed solicitors. "One has to ask oneself, why would she do that?
" stated the judgment. "Was she hiding something?
During the tribunal Rowe produced notes which she claimed she took during a critical meeting with Hale about the reasons for her selection. But the notes were written on white paper, not the brown-tinted paper used in her Dentons notebooks. The date of the meeting on her notes was also wrong and, "extraordinarily
", mirrored the incorrect date from Barnes' typed record. It was "not credible"
that she "happened to find a random piece of loose paper in her drawer",
ruled the tribunal. "None of this is credible
". It found that Rowe actually created her note retrospectively.
The judgment also criticised the partner in charge of Dentons’ Milton Keynes office, Andrew Harris. The suggestion by Hale's barrister, Daniel Barnett
, that Harris did not attempt to mislead the tribunal was "very generous
", stated the judgment. In fact, Harris' attempts to back away from positive comments he had made about Hale's performance during her employment were "unconvincing and lacking in credibility
". The "incredibly minor
" criticisms Dentons produced to justify terminating Hale "gave us the impression of someone scratching around desperately for justification
Blowing a crater in the credibility of Dentons' HR team and more besides, the judgment ascribed a "lack of honesty
" to the firm's witnesses, and ruled that neither Rowe nor Barnes were "credible witnesses
". The tribunal also observed that Dentons had failed to produce any evidence that other staff returning from maternity leave to face a redundancy exercise had not also been targeted.
A busy spokesman for Dentons said, "Diversity and inclusion, as well as the highest standards of professionalism, are both very important priorities for the Firm. We are disappointed with the Tribunal's decision as we are committed to a working environment free of discrimination, and will be reviewing the judgment and our processes carefully in the light of its conclusions