The SRA will prosecute Dentons at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal after a cover-up by its HR team unravelled during a discrimination case which it lost. As a relief to the firm, RollOnFriday understands that none of the individuals criticised in last year's tribunal decision will have any further action against them by the SRA.
In 2017 an Employment Tribunal found Dentons guilty of discriminating against, and unfairly dismissing, recruitment manager Bina Hale because she was on maternity leave. During the hearing, it emerged that when Dentons learned that Hale was going to sue, HR manager Suzanne Barnes replaced her handwritten notes of crucial meetings with typed versions. "One has to ask oneself, why would she do that?" said the tribunal. "Was she hiding something?"
Emma Rowe, Dentons' UK head of HR, produced what she claimed were contemporaneous notes or a critical meeting. However they were written on white paper, not the brown-tinted paper used in her Dentons notebooks. The date of the meeting was wrong and, "extraordinarily", said the tribunal, mirrored the incorrect date from Barnes' record. "None of this is credible", found the tribunal, which decided that Rowe actually created her note retrospectively.
The Dentons partner in charge of Bale's office was also criticised. Andrew Harris' attempts to walk back positive comments he made about Hale's performance were judged "unconvincing and lacking in credibility". In a crushing judgment, the tribunal said that Dentons' witnesses demonstrated a "lack of honesty", and that neither Rowe nor Barnes were credible witnesses.
The SRA has now concluded its investigation into the matter. A SRA spokesman told RollOnFriday that he could not provide a comment. However, RollOnFriday has had sight of an email from an SRA investigation officer which stated "we have decided to prosecute Dentons at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal".
A spokesman for Dentons told RollOnFriday that the firm was "pleased" that the SRA had cleared the individuals from further investigation and prosecution, but was "disappointed" that the SRA is "considering" referring the firm to the disciplinary tribunal. Dentons is "a working environment free of discrimination" said the spokesman. He added that diversity, inclusion and "the highest standards of professionalism" are very important priorities for Dentons, and that the firm had reviewed its maternity policy "to ensure it is aligned with market best practice".