bun

Not all Cooks like a bun in the oven.


A law firm which sacked a solicitor after finding out that she was pregnant has been ordered to pay her £26,500, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Michael Cook hired the woman, identified as ‘M Dobson’ by the tribunal, in August 2022 to handle residential conveyancing at his firm, Michael Cook Law.

She joined the Durham-based firm on a salary of £21k where she worked three days a week. 

The following January, Cook asked Dobson to meet him at Seaham Hall, messaging that “there is something I want to run by you. I will meet you inside the hotel. Cheers.”

Her husband joked that she hopefully wasn't going to be presented with a P45. Instead, Cook told her he was extremely impressed with her work and wanted her to become a director of the firm.

Dobson said she was interested, but would need a raise to £30k if she was going to take on the extra duties managing staff.

At a follow up meeting to discuss her possible promotion at Ramside Hall Hotel, Cook told her he was planning to demote the firm’s conveyancing paralegal because he was unhappy with the standard of her work and make her Dobson’s secretary.

Dobson objected, telling Cook it was unfair, but then asked to speak to him privately in her car. She told him she was nine weeks pregnant, and so removing the paralegal would be an especially bad idea because she would be going on maternity leave, and would need cover for her matters.

She added that she would be happy to become a director, but Cook responded that he would “just have to leave it”.

Dobson continued working as a conveyancing solicitor and said she was “not upset” that the offer of directorship was withdrawn because she didn’t especially want the extra responsibility without an appropriate increase in her salary.

However, four weeks later Cook dismissed her without warning and with immediate effect, paying her one week’s wages in lieu of notice.

Cook blamed the “economic climate”, and said conveyancing work had dropped off. He didn’t provide an appeal procedure, or hold any discussions with her in advance to discuss the possibility of alternatives to dismissal.

When Dobson wrote to Cook disputing that she was a valid subject for redundancy, and that the dismissal was an act of pregnancy-related discrimination, he asked Rob Heerin HR Limited to deal with her objection, and lo and behold it exonerated the firm.

Pregnant and suddenly jobless, Dobson’s “appetite was non-existent and she was worried about her baby”, noted the tribunal. “The period after her dismissal was one of the darkest times in her life”, and she “felt overwhelmed by the litigation”.

Cook deployed a battery of arguments in his defence which all backfired. He claimed that he had made Dobson redundant after meeting with his accountant who advised him to cut costs. But he had “no explanation” for the tribunal as to why the accountant’s email containing that advice was written ten months after their meeting, and three months after Dobson submitted her claim.

Rob Heerin conceded that his ‘investigation’ hadn't actually extended to discussions with either Dobson or Cook. Then it emerged that his outcome letter exculpating the firm had actually been written by Cook’s office manager, which Heerin "then merely copied onto his own letterhead”.

Cook did not consider anyone else for redundancy and "no procedures were followed", leading the tribunal to conclude that, like the withdrawal of the offer of promotion, he dismissed Dobson "because of her pregnancy”.

The hash the firm made of the dismissal led to a 20% uplift in Dobson's compensation, bringing the total to just under £26,500.

Going by his firm's holding email, Cook will struggle to sack any other pregnant women on the basis that there isn't enough work to go around. It currently warns correspondents that “Whilst we are still working on all of our Conveyancing transactions, the volume is unusually high”, and that "We are working hard to keep the disruption to all clients to a minimum".

The firm told ROF in a statement, “We are aware of the decision and of course we are unhappy. We will be exploring all our options with our legal advisers”.

Dobson did not respond to a request for comment.


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Comments

Anonymous 28 June 24 09:21

Absolutely crazy that he dismissed her like this.

We all know that it's a good idea for small firms to dismiss women that are pregnant, or that they suspect are / will be pregnant soon. It's impossible, unreasonable and often unsustainable for firms outside of the Magic Circle to pay someone to not work for months, with no ability to claw those costs back from the person's salary when they come back. It just doesn't make any business sense.

But obviously you can't do that if they've actively told you that they're pregnant. That's the big gotcha that employers need to avoid. 

Sh!thousery 28 June 24 09:43

Goes on all the time.  

I was dismissed for raising the prospect of paternity leave (told I wasn't committed to litigation practice).

Decided it would be career suicide to fight it so moved on with my life.

Anonymous 28 June 24 10:52

09:21 is right though. It's not good business to pay old-fashioned women with odd ideas about traditional family units to take time off of work to do nothing.

It's why so many sensible modern employers are implementing progressive diversity initiatives to increase trans representation in the workplace. Diversity there is a win-win for employers because of course trans-women are real women just like the biological ones and so they count towards the employer's ratio of women to men to help you with your gender pay-gap reporting, but they have the added advantage of being hard and consistent workers who never have children which means that despite being real women they just so happen to perform exactly like men (which, of course, they are definitely not and it would be insane to suggest they are). 

In an ideal world you'd manage to replace all of the old fashioned type of women with the upgraded new trans-women, that'd be best for the bottom line, but unfortunately there just aren't enough of them to go around yet.

Cook the Books 28 June 24 11:38

I appreciate that this is one of the lesser of his many evils, but £30k for a partner? Even at 3 days a week pro rata that’s appalling, even for a small provincial firm. That alone should have had her running in the opposite direction.

Anonymous 28 June 24 11:40

Anonymous 28 June 24 09:21 wrote: "We all know that it's a good idea for small firms to dismiss women that are pregnant, or that they suspect are / will be pregnant soon."

Hire a locum for less / same £.  No issue, and stop using faux-practicalities to snake your pathetic feudalism back into modern life.   

Anonymous 28 June 24 12:06

"Hire a locum for less / same £. "

That's exactly what I'm suggesting!

You sack the woman who wants money despite not contributing, and you replace them with a locum until you find a permanent hire. That's the ideal scenario.

To clarify, the thing I'm saying doesn't make sense is to hire a locum as well as paying the salary of an unproductive mother who will just at home for six months contributing nothing. Of course any responsible employer will want to avoid that nightmare scenario.

Anonymous 28 June 24 13:16

I was set up to fail and dismissed because of my menopause, by a big City firm who ‘talked the talk’ about supporting women through their menopause. It’s all just smoke and mirrors that all law firms show. None of it’s believed in or followed. They pretend and saying one thing and go do the opposite. A colleague of mine quit because she wasn’t getting any support with hers. Worst of all it was a younger female manager who singled me out and set me up. She’ll have her menopause one day, if she’s lucky, and maybe then she’ll have some understanding of how horrible it can be, especially the mental symptoms that affect your ability to work, and as to how you’re treated by others. Women should be helping one another in the workplace.

Anonymous 28 June 24 13:19

Kind of amazing to see that people are still this dumb about dismissal procedures 

Anonymous 28 June 24 13:47

@10:32 :"It's not good business to pay old-fashioned women [...] to take time off of work to do nothing."

Top trolling.

 

Jane Genova 28 June 24 17:56

Pregnancy is not welcome in myriad sectors, not currently. That's sad but reality.

Wish I knew... 28 June 24 18:39

To add insult to injury, I heard the poor lady was then called fat, by another lawyer, on a dating app. What is the world coming to!

Parsnip 29 June 24 07:51

This is the type of conduct the SRA should be investigating- beyond the employment tribunal there is a clear case for the law firm to argue as a matter of conduct. I hope they have self reported 

Parental leave = sacking 29 June 24 18:02

I took parental leave, to which I was entitled, and was told to leave the partnership two weeks afterwards. I work with a number of people who tell a similar story. Despicable, but not as bad as the HK lawyer who called the lady fat, obviously.

Human 30 June 24 10:31

Small employers are reimbursed 102.5% of the cost of statutory maternity pay (i.e. they make a small profit).. Possibly the small uplift is insufficient for the cost and disruption of maternity cover.

 

Employees need to work 6 months, before they are entitled to SMP. Employees who have not been employed for this period are only entitled to statutory maternity allowance.

 

By far the biggest financial hit in relation to maternity is the completely unjustifiable rule that holiday pay should continue to accrue during a period of absence in which the employee is quite free to holiday (or not)  if she chooses to.

Sir Woke Remainer 30 June 24 22:22

I only employ transgender women so as to appear woke, but secretly only because I don't want to employ those old fashioned kind of women who can have babies and cost my firm lots of money in maternity pay and lost earnings.

No nob, no job.

Lefty Lawyer 01 July 24 14:00

Incredible all of the hate filled backwards looking views being expressed on this thread, showing there’s a lot more work to be done. I presume nobody espousing this crap would do so when not behind the protection of their screen and keyboard.

Anonymous 02 July 24 10:05

"Incredible all of the hate filled backwards looking views being expressed on this thread"

I know! It's disgusting!

Like you, I am staggered that enlightened legal professionals are not more enthusiastic about employing new, improved trans-women instead of continuing to rely on outdated and unreliable traditional-women. It's not just good DEI, it's good business.

I don't understand why so many people can't recognise progress when it's absolutely slapping them in the face.

Paul 02 July 24 13:18

Lefty Lawyer (01 July 14:00) - maybe, just maybe, most of the comments are tongue in cheek?  

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