10 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".
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Comments

Anonymous 12 Jan 18

Ouch indeed. Does "reviewing... our processes carefully" mean, considering whether we should continue to employ people who have been found to be liars by a tribunal?!

Anonymous 12 Jan 18

Shocking Read. Are Emma Rowe and Suzanne Barnes still employed? The website suggests they are. Shows how seriously Dentons have taken this judgement. Are Dentons actually lawyers ? !?. Well done Hale ! Dentons should stop pretending to support Woman - they clearly don't . Vote with your feet ladies !

Anonymous 12 Jan 18

You would have to question ever hiring a law firm who make such a bad job of covering up their own unfair dismissal actions...

Anonymous 12 Jan 18

If they are not competent to manage their own legal issues they are not competent to advise clients on theirs.

Anonymous 12 Jan 18

Disgraceful behaviour. Hope the SRA look at the papers and disciplinary action is considered .

Anonymous 12 Jan 18

Amazed. Questionable decision to allow this to reach a tribunal - should have done a deal.

Anonymous 12 Jan 18

This is actually awful, if you want to let someone go then make the payment and avoid the publicity if you can’t do it properly. The level of incompetence is frightening, if you are that clueless don’t let it go to tribunal. The spokesman nonsense is just embarrassing. Not a law firm worth engaging in any matter it would appear.

Anonymous 13 Jan 18

This is very worrying. Although HR people do not have the professional duties ot the court of solicitors the head of HR was supposedly supervised by a partner who presumably told her to destroy nothing and create nothing. It certainly looks very strange that the same error appeared twice by chance.

Anonymous 15 Jan 18

The total arrogance of this firm . I think the head of the employment practice should be asked some serious questions. I hope Dentons are made an example of by the judge with a mega payout! They have the staff and resources to know better . What a horrible place to work. My hat goes off to this woman you should be very proud. Sounds to me like she is someone any firm would be keen to employ she seems to have determination , dignity, top performance levels and balls !

Anonymous 17 Jan 18

The tribunal found that the individuals concerned had acted dishonestly. Why do they continue to be employed by Dentons?!

Anonymous 18 Jan 18

Does anyone have a link to the tribunal decision? Have been searching online but haven't been able to find it.

Anonymous 19 Jan 18

Let's be realistic - they are not the only law firm that selects people for redundancy because they have been on maternity leave, or manages them out on their return. Nor are they the only one to cook up utter shite to justify themselves. They are just one of very few who had (1) a determined enough complainant who has the emotional energy to take them on rather than moving on and (2) who didn't manage to settle.

Anonymous 06 Feb 18

looks like she was on BBC breakfast Today -I bet Denton's so wish they had paid her off .(there is still time). I wonder if she will write a book next. What a driven woman. very impressed. Girl POWER

Anonymous 22 Feb 18

Was she on bbc breakfast on Monday and “wake up to money” .. and various other media portals on Monday . ? ??? She came across as a pretty bright woman. Who has been treated appallingly . Shame on you Dentons . Sounds like your employment partner and head of HR needs to go ! . Are Emma Rowe and Susanna Barnes still with the firm ?

Anonymous 18 Apr 18

Shocking when you consider they promote "Diversity and Inclusion".
It's all about power!!

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