DWF acted fairly when it fired a trainee for gross misconduct after she funneled confidential client information to her friend, an employment tribunal has ruled.
Haley Tansey was given a job at DWF by her close friend, Rachel Jones, but later turned on the partner in an attempt to protect herself.
Jones arranged intermittent work experience for Tansey in 2013, and then took her on as a paralegal. Tansey, 49, was initially seconded to Serco, but "she did not have an entirely successful relationship" with the company, the tribunal heard, and Serco asked DWF to take her back. Tansey then failed a trainee assessment exercise, but Jones overrode it and Tansey was given a training contract.
However, in 2017 a DWF employee noticed that Tansey had sent two emails to clients without running them past her supervisors, in breach of DWF's trainee supervision policy.
Jones was alerted and given access to Tansey's account. She noticed that Tansey had sent several emails to third parties who were not clients, and raised the alarm. When a team combed through Tansey's emails, they found more examples, many of which were addressed to Gina Ramsey, Tansey's friend and former business partner.
DWF discovered that Tansey had sent Ramsey legal advice on litigation strategy, a template zero hours contract which Ramsey told the tribunal was for her cleaners, confidential slides relating to DWF's fraud products, information revealing the medical issues of several claimants, and many of the firm's news updates which disclosed the confidential identity of DWF clients.
Tansey initially admitted she has made errors and apologised, but in the run-up to the firm's final decision on her employment, she emailed Paul Berry, DWF's Head of Insurance, and made a series of allegations. She claimed that Jones had used her own personal email account for client matters, and had inappropriately shared confidential client information with Tansey while she was undertaking her work experience.
Plunging the knife in further, Tansey alleged that Jones had encouraged her to leave DWF and join a new firm which Jones intended to set up. Tansey refused to produce full text message conversations substantiating her claim.
Tansey also claimed that DWF partners encouraged her to remove sensitive data from Serco, and told her to spy on Pinsent Masons, Serco's other lawyers.
“You should know that I have been subjected to the most inept, amateurish ‘investigation’ imaginable, clearly conducted by a set of very aggressive and out of their depth DWF employees”, she told Berry.
Tansey told Berry that her allegations were protected disclosures and that, because she had made them, she was now a whistleblower and needed to be treated as such. As a result, DWF was forced to put her disciplinary hearing on hold while it investigated. Once it concluded that her allegations were baseless, it fired Tansey for gross misconduct.
The tribunal was "unconvinced" that Tansey was a genuine whistleblower. "The timing of the disclosures", it said, "suggested that their principal purpose was to defend if not deflect the disciplinary case".
It had issues with several of Tansey's claims. Her evidence that she was unaware of her confidentiality obligations was "inconsistent and at times evasive". Her explanation that she only sent information to her friend because Ramsey was “intellectual and interested in the law” was "inherently implausible". And her accusation that the SRA's investigator was "motivated by a personal animus" was "unsupported".
Tansey has now lost two claims for unfair dismissal. She started her work experience at DWF shortly after bringing an unsuccessful employment tribunal claim against HBOS, in which her lurid allegations about its allegedly sexist culture made tabloid headlines.
A DWF spokeswoman said, "We are pleased that the tribunal has found in favour of DWF and that the matter can now be brought to a close".