A lawyer has won AUS$450,000 (£250,000) from Australian firm HWL Ebsworth after its Managing Partner fired him for writing a book, telling him "you should be packing".
Tim Griffiths subsequently managed to secure a Special Counsel role paying AUS$300,000 at Ashurst, albeit in Papua New Guinea, after Juan Martinez "effectively marched him out the door" for what the Supreme Court of New South Wales deemed were "irrational and wrong" reasons.
Griffiths was earning AUS$450,000 a year at HWL Ebsworth as a fixed share partner when his billings collapsed from AUS$2.3 million to AUS$1.5 million after his major client left the firm.
Without consulting the other partners, Martinez used the terms of a partnership deed to give Griffiths three months notice. Four weeks later, "out of the blue", he emailed Griffiths, "I do not want you in the practice any longer. I wish to propose you leave tomorrow".
The previous year Griffiths completed a book about a photographer on the Shackleton expedition, Endurance, which Martinez used as a pretext for firing him. "If you want to be an author, you can actually resign from the partnership and be an author", he said under cross-examination.
COUNSEL: So your evidence is that no partner of the firm, HWL Ebsworth, can write a book without your permission?
Martinez claimed that Griffiths spent 90% of his time in the office preparing for his book launch, but based the assertion on spotty data Justice Stephen Robb said the approach was "extraordinarily lax" given the stakes were another man's job.
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Martinez also accused Griffiths of taking precedents, but it transpired that he had only printed off a couple to see if they would help his brother, who was closing down his business. Martinez, said the judge, acted as if there was an "iron rule" against it. "I cannot see how these matters could possibly be such serious breaches that their occurrence would justify summary termination", he said.
The case showed Martinez taking a high-handed approach to management. When Griffiths begged him over email for a meeting, Martinez replied, "I have had other things on my mind BUT you should be packing."
Griffiths said it was "quite embarrassing to be packing boxes with all the solicitors and administrative staff around me", especially when one of the other partners arrived to check through each box.
Griffith's credibility "was in the first rank of witnesses", said the judge, whereas Martinez made "unqualified allegations" that Griffiths was "dishonest, disingenuous, evasive and lacked candour". Martinez' evidence to support his claim that he was authorised to fire partners unilaterally was also "meagre", he said.
RollOnFriday asked Martinez if he’s going to fire anyone else for writing a book or printing off precedents, and if he regards himself as a megalomaniac. He did not respond.