An employment tribunal has expressed "concern" and "incredulity" after a law firm's secretary ended up as a beneficiary in a client's will.
Mrs S Mansfield, a legal secretary, worked at boutique firm AB Family Law in Gloucester assisting partner Adrian Bressington . The firm sacked Mansfield during her probation period for making various mistakes. She brought a disability discrimination claim, on grounds of dyslexia, against Bressington and the firm.
At the hearing, the employment tribunal was "very critical" of Mansfield's behaviour in relation to a matter involving one of the firm's clients - an old lady referred to as 'Ms X' by the tribunal.
The firm had been instructed to redraft Ms X's will and power of attorney. Bressington introduced Mansfield to Ms X at a meeting at the client's retirement home. To follow up, Mansfield was asked to visit Ms X to witness her power of attorney. But during that second meeting, the secretary ended up befriending the elderly client.
Ms X subsequently asked that Mansfield be added as an additional attorney. "This in itself was a very strange development bearing in mind that Ms X had only very recently met the claimant," said the presiding judge, adding that it was very "suspicious".
The tribunal heard "with mounting incredulity" that a new lasting power of attorney had to be drawn up with Mansfield as an attorney with authority to "control Ms X's finances". A new will was also drafted with Mansfield as one of the three beneficiaries along with the local church and Ms X's retirement village.
The judge noted that because of the incident, Bressington was "deprived of the fees" for re-drafting the power of attorney and also deprived of any future fees for the administration of Ms X's estate when she dies. Bressington told the tribunal that had he known about Mansfield forming such a bond with his client "he would have had no hesitation" in dismissing her at the time "for breach of mutual trust and confidence."
At the hearing, the tribunal noted that "there did not seem to be any recognition at all" from Mansfield that "she had done anything wrong." Mansfield told the tribunal that she viewed Ms X as "very much a family friend." And a generous one too, it seemed.
The incident was of "very considerable concern" to the tribunal who felt it "seriously" undermined Mansfield's credibility.
The tribunal ruled that Mansfield's case was “brought unreasonably and continued unreasonably”. It dismissed Mansfield's discrimination case and ordered that she pay the firm's costs of £7,700.