A female lawyer has succeeded in claims of sex discrimination, victimisation and harassment against her former employer.

Shipping solicitor Helena Biggs worked at A Bilbrough & Co, a maritime insurance management company, from 2004 to 2018, rising to the position of associate director. Prior to that, she was a solicitor at Barlow Lyde & Gilbert (pre-merger with Clyde & Co) and trained at Ince.

Biggs brought various claims against A Bilbrough and three of its directors. She told the employment tribunal that she was unfairly dismissed following a "campaign of victimisation" and had witnessed repeated sexist behaviour from her male bosses.

Biggs said that one of the directors, Steve Roberts, referred to her as "pushy" and branded her as "overly dominant" and "incredibly ambitious". The tribunal found the statements about Biggs' work ethic to be "negative" and "sexist", saying it was "highly unlikely" the terms would have been used to describe a man with similar traits.

Biggs voiced a concern that her colleagues would see her as the "Wicked Witch of the West" because she was the person who was expected to deal with underperforming staff. In Roberts' evidence, he said that a male colleague described Biggs as a "ballbreaker", which, the tribunal noted, was accepted as fact, "even though that person had originally described her as supportive".

The tribunal found that Biggs "was a conscientious manager who gave feedback" and "assisted" junior and new staff.  And "there had been no formal complaints and no grievances raised" against Biggs "in relation to her management style and no allegations of bullying had been raised by the staff". 

In another instance, Roberts told Biggs to "use her charms" to get on his good side, which was also a phrase that would not have been said to a man, found the tribunal.

Roberts also said he would not give a particular fleet to Biggs because the operators of the fleet held sexist views, and he could not "force them" to work with a woman.

When Biggs was going on maternity leave, another director, Ian Barr, allegedly told a female employee to "keep her legs shut", and on another occasion Barr described a female colleague as looking "like a dyke". The tribunal criticised Barr for his "derogatory" comments.

On another occasion, a female client invited Biggs for drinks, and Barr allegedly suggested that this might be because the client was a lesbian. Barr argued that he said this to "protect" Biggs, but the tribunal noted that it was "not clear how making this comment would protect her."


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Biggs told the tribunal that during a lunch meeting she had been groped by a lawyer who represented a client, but when she reported it to Barr, he had tried to downplay the incident.

Biggs also raised the issue of unequal pay with the company, upon discovering that her salary was less than a similarly ranked male colleague, over a period of five years. But Roberts warned her that it could be "dangerous" if she tried to raise the issue with management.

Biggs persisted, and A Bilbrough eventually agreed to grant her a pay rise. But it did not backdate the payments for the full period, stating that this was because the business had provided financial support for Biggs' MBA. However, the tribunal noted that A Bilbrough had not previously suggested to Biggs that funding the course would be linked to her salary.

Roberts gave Biggs a list of objectives that "amounted to an excessive and impossible workload", found the tribunal, and he "put them together because of her gender and to create an oppressive environment for her".

She brought an internal grievance for various issues, accusing Roberts of abusing his power and "exhibiting intimidating or demeaning behaviour". 

In the grievance outcome, Barr upheld parts of the complaint, but did not agree that that there had been discrimination, or that Roberts had misused his power.

A Bilbrough later terminated Biggs' employment, citing personality clashes due to "irreconcilable differences" between Biggs and Roberts.

The tribunal ruled that Biggs had been unfairly dismissed, finding that A Bilbrough had wanted to get rid of her when she "challenged their authority" and "caused them difficulties" with her grievances including her complaint of unequal pay. 

A source told RollOnFriday: "The behaviour which the judge in this case has recognised as being unlawful is common in shipping law firms and until now male bosses have enjoyed a large degree of impunity."

The remedies and compensation for Biggs will be determined at a hearing at a later date.

A spokesman for A Bilbrough said: "Naturally we are disappointed with the outcome of the recent tribunal which we feel does not accurately reflect the culture, operations or activities of A Bilbrough & Co." He added, "We are currently investigating options for appeal. As the proceedings are not yet complete we are unable to comment further".

Biggs did not respond to a request for comment.

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Comments

SRA 17 July 20 08:57

And will the SRA be doing anything about the sexist and vile conduct?  I hope she reported them. 

Sbipshape 17 July 20 09:00

This is standard for shipping. Terrible ladz culture.  Very bright women forced out by harassment and discrimination. 

Anonymous 17 July 20 09:18

@SRA 17 July 20 08:57 

Think Bilborough is more akin to an insurance company than it is a law firm so not too sure what the SRA will/can do.

@Sbipshape 17 July 20 09:00

Yes, it's a terrible "sausage-fest" full of one dimensional dinosaurs (and I am the bearer of a Y chromosome). I once had to take two Korean shipping clients to a burlesque show. Toe-curling doesn't cover it!

 

Anon 17 July 20 09:45

This was a depressing read. The 'boys culture' needs to be killed off.

Shank 17 July 20 09:56

This sounds exactly like the banter at my old shop - to be fair to the gents, they had no idea how embarrassing they were (they thought calling a female colleague a “lioness” was a genuine compliment). We all just rolled our eyes and got on with it because we knew they “meant well” and it would just be uncomfortable to push against it. But yeah, we all laughed about them. 

Anonymous2020 17 July 20 10:37

Women and ethnic minorities are massively underrepresented in the shipping industry. It really is a man’s world and in law firms the male partner is king and can do no wrong. 
 

Let’s hope things change and more people have the strength to do what she did. 
 

Anonymous 17 July 20 11:46

The report of this case makes instructive reading for anyone thinking of bringing a sexual harassment or discrimination claim as it gives some indication of what is harassment or discrimination and what is not. In this case, although some of the claims were successful, some turned out to be false.

Anon 17 July 20 11:59

Impressive that this case was brought and won by the tenacious female shipping lawyer concerned (never met her but that must have taken great courage). Brave and trail-blazing! 

This is entirely typical for shipping. I predict that this generation of female lawyers and those following are not going to be putting up with this treatment any longer. 

We all need to openly call out shipping firms and in house shipping teams where able women are not promoted. We should also be calling out all male speaker panels - just not good enough given the number of talented female shipping practitioners.

More fool these firms and organisations as well - they are missing out on the full potential of the very able female lawyers who they have paid to train. 

Anon 17 July 20 12:00

Things like this are common place in the industry. I've seen woman groped or made to get drunk so lads can have their way with them before and it's more often than not brushed under the carpet. No one wants to upset the status quo or offend a potential client. 

I've seen similar things happen with racist incidents where a client has said something out of line and partners generally defend the assailant despite acknowledging that what was said was wrong. I think the whole industry needs an overhaul but I don't think that anyone is ready to lead the charge. 

Anonymous 17 July 20 12:41

What do you mean 'made to get drunk?

Anonymous 17 July 20 14:49

Although, it's true that women are underrepresented in the shopping law, the claimant here sounds like a real pain in the back. And yes, she was employed by an insurance company - not a law firm. 

She had been working there for 14 years (long enough) and was repeatedly asked to be less harsh / polite with colleagues. The fact that she was described as 'pushy' and an 'enforcer' tells a lot. Such people are just not liked in general and, to be fair, the level of tolerance towards men who demonstrate such qualities is FAAAAR LOWER than towards women.

Wouldn't be surprised that if there was a man in her position, he would have been terminated much earlier... 

Anonymous 17 July 20 14:58

Not that it makes a difference, but A Bilbrough & Co is the managing agent for the London Club, a P&I insurance company and not a law firm.

Anyway, the London Club is and has been for some time, a shitty and old-fashioned business run by absolute dinosaurs who have been there since the dawn of time and treat the place like their own personal fiefdom. You can almost smell the place when reading the full judgment. 

It's an actual miracle that Bilbrough hasn't folded or been bought out by a more modern club with better values (for shipping anyway). 

Personally find the claimant fairly unpleasant but well done to her for persevering - massively depressing that she had to in the first place.

Anonymous 17 July 20 16:11

You mean unproven, therefore false.

Anonymous 17 July 20 17:00

What other women have been forced out due to ladz culture or harassment and discrimination?

Anonymous 17 July 20 17:49

Will you also be calling out all female speaker panels 11.59?

Still @WFW 17 July 20 18:40

When I saw the headline, I thought it was another WFW article. Same modus operandi though.

Anonymous 17 July 20 20:37

Anonymous 17 July 20 17:49

Will you also be calling out all female speaker panels 11.59?

You haven't got a clue what is going on, have you.

I've seen more impressive efforts in a soiled nappy.

Anon 17 July 20 20:51

Not seen many of those all female speaker panels in shipping. Are you talking about WISTA? 

Anonymous 17 July 20 21:48

What do you mean 'made to get drunk?

What other women have been forced out due to ladz culture or harassment and discrimination?

Will you also be calling out all female speaker panels 11.59?

We should make a movie.

We can all it

Sea-Lion 2 - The sphincter opens

Anonymous 17 July 20 23:41

What shipping firms and in house shipping teams where able women are not promoted?

Anonymous 18 July 20 01:13

Good grief. "Marine" and "Insurance" are simply bywords for those dreadful Essex types. The ones who work through every bar near Bank on payday, ordering buckets full of "Dommy P" and charlie because they think it's classy. Take your loafers and your brightly coloured, incomparably vulgar socks, and fuck off back to Chigwell or wherever the fuck it is you're from. We're not interested in your "rags to riches" (lol) story or that your "Nanna" cooks a "bleedin' good ham and egg pie." It's not charming - it's hideous.

Anonymous 18 July 20 10:15

Not talking about WISTA, there isn't a MISTA.

There probably aren't many all female panels in shipping, but if there were would they be called out?

Anonymous 18 July 20 10:52

What do you mean 'made to get drunk?

What other women have been forced out due to ladz culture or harassment and discrimination?

Will you also be calling out all female speaker panels 11.59?

What shipping firms and in house shipping teams where able women are not promoted?

Male fragility is real.

Anonymous 18 July 20 12:47

What is going on 20.37?

There probably aren't many all female panels in shipping, but if there were would they be called out?

Sea Lion 3 - The Tede Returns

Anonymous 18 July 20 12:54

Typical Insurance Barra Boy: 'I grew up singing "My Old Man's A Dustman" and "Let's All Go Down The Strand, Have A Banana!" in the East End so I did.'

Everyone Else: 'But weren't you were born in 1992?'

Typical Insurance Barra Boy: 'Oi oi, barman! I'd like your biggest bottle of "JD" please, for me and all my pals!' *Positions his gaudy, oversized Rolex over his cuff for all to see*

Everyone Else: 'He may be a prick, but at least he's paying for the charlie. Let's entertain him until his last train back to Shittown is due.'

Anon 18 July 20 15:29

“...able women are not promoted” 

If this concept is too complex, can anyone point to a London shipping practice with even 20% female partners in the London office? 

 

Anon 18 July 20 15:31

“There probably aren't many all female panels in shipping, but if there were would they be called out?”

Men do actually speak at WISTA, interestingly. I’ve never seen an all woman panel in shipping in the last 17 years.

Anonymous 18 July 20 20:39

Anonymous 18 July 20 09:03

What is going on 20.37?

Quite.

Anonymous 18 July 20 22:19

What do you mean 'made to get drunk? - you don't know

What other women have been forced out due to ladz culture or harassment and discrimination? - you don't know, but you think none

Will you also be calling out all female speaker panels 11.59? - no, you won't

We should make a movie.

We can all it

Sea-Lion 2 - you need to look up the definition of sealion- The sphincter opens - indeed it does, 17th at 21.48, indeed it does.

 

Anonymous 18 July 20 22:22

Anonymous 18 July 20 10:52

What do you mean 'made to get drunk? - you don't know

What other women have been forced out due to ladz culture or harassment and discrimination? - you don't know

Will you also be calling out all female speaker panels 11.59? - no, you won't

What shipping firms and in house shipping teams where able women are not promoted? - you don't know

Male fragility is real - fragility is not gender specific

Anonymous 18 July 20 22:23

Anonymous 18 July 20 12:47

What is going on 20.37? - what is going on 20.37?

There probably aren't many all female panels in shipping, but if there were would they be called out? - doubtful

Sea Lion 3 - The Tede Returns - yes, they did

Anonymous 19 July 20 01:01

Not complex at all 15.29, but the question is are able women not joining or not being promoted?

Anonymous 19 July 20 08:18

There was no suggestion that WISTA has no male speakers. The question was whether an all female panel would be called out.

Anonymous 19 July 20 15:58

Why aren't men ever called ball breakers?

Bantersaurus Rex fan 19 July 20 16:10

The Bantersaurus picture cracked me up - nice one ROF 

Anonymous 20 July 20 09:04

Yes, 20.39, quite, we still don't know.

Anonymous 20 July 20 09:36

The reply guy is strong in this one.

And if you don't know what a reply guy is....

https://twitter.com/SoozUK/status/1283354337910165506

Anonymous 20 July 20 11:13

”Anonymous 18 July 20 01:13

Good grief. "Marine" and "Insurance" are simply bywords for those dreadful Essex types. The ones who work through every bar near Bank on payday, ordering buckets full of "Dommy P" and charlie because they think it's classy. Take your loafers and your brightly coloured, incomparably vulgar socks, and fuck off back to Chigwell or wherever the fuck it is you're from. We're not interested in your "rags to riches" (lol) story or that your "Nanna" cooks a "bleedin' good ham and egg pie." It's not charming - it's hideous.”

The classism pours off the screen from this. 
 

Anonymous 20 July 20 15:40

Exhibit A: 'The classism pours off the screen from this.'

Dean (or Kevin, or Lee, or whatever), this doesn't make any sense.

Anonymous 20 July 20 18:25

Which posts are you referring to 9.36 and why are you referring to them?

Anonymous 20 July 20 19:36

Anonymous 20 July 20 09:04

Yes, 20.39, quite, we still don't know.

FAOD it's not we, it's you.  You don't have a clue what is going on.

Anonymous 20 July 20 19:37

fragility is not gender specific

Yours is.

Anonymous 20 July 20 19:54

A man couldn't call another man a "ball breaker". Men understand this pain like no woman could.

Anonymous 21 July 20 09:40

Anonymous 20 July 20 09:04

Yes, 20.39, quite, we still don't know.

FAOD it's not we, it's you.  You don't have a clue what is going on.

No, its us. We don't have a clue. Neither, it seems do you, since you don't seem able to say.

Anonymous 21 July 20 09:42

Was there never any banter from female staff Shank?

Anonymous 21 July 20 12:58

No fragility is gender based 20th 19.37.

Anonymous 21 July 20 14:40

I understand that some aspects of critical theory have taken undue prominence in our lives but I can't understand why anyone would be seeking to undermine the validity of this case.

This woman was clearly treated appallingly and deserves to win her case.  The whataboutery from the obvious troll is not helpful to anyone, least of all the troll.

Anonymous 21 July 20 21:25

It is not to undermine the credibility of the claimant or say she wasn't treated badly to say that some of the claims were false 14.40, rather it is to state the outcome of the tribunal. The findings of the tribunal give a good indication of what is and isn't discrimination and/or harassment.

Whataboutery relating to not addressing questions about claims is not helpful to anyone, least of all the whatabouterer.

Anonymous 22 July 20 16:05

@ Anonymous 21 July 20 21:25 

Your wilful blindness to the pertinent comments (whataboutery) verges on gaslighting.

I don't think anyone is taking you seriously anymore except, perhaps, yourself.

In a strange way that's quite an achievement.

KANYE WEST 22 July 20 22:04

I need legal advice. I'm trying to divorce Kim. Who will help me?

Anonymous 23 July 20 13:39

Its sounds as if you don't know what gaslighting is, 21st @ 21.25. 

I don't think anybody has been taking this seriously since whatabouterers didn't answer questions related to the pertinent comments.

That, in a strange way, is no achievement.

Anonymous 23 July 20 22:01

I dare say you may find, as you climb the greasy pole at SportsDirect, that I know you are but what am I is rarely an appropriate response.

Good luck though.

Anonymous 23 July 20 23:32

It was certainly enough to put you in your place though 22.01.

Good luck though.

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