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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Female solicitor told not to have a relationship or babies by boss, tribunal hears

Alice Philipson

Published 09/01/2013 | 12:55

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THE "bullying" boss of a female solicitor told her he did not want her to have a relationship or to have babies, an employment tribunal heard.

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Kate Baker alleged she was sacked from law firm Follett Stock because of her gender after she started a relationship.

She said was sent a text message from the wife of boss Chris Lingard reiterating his view that he wanted her to stay single.

In her statement to the Exeter tribunal judge Christopher Carstairs, Miss Baker outlined a culture of bullying by Mr Lingard, who is in his 50s, which included workers not being able to talk for four hours a day.

Miss Baker said in her first two weeks at the firm working out of their Truro office in Cornwall, she saw one woman reduced to tears by her boss and claimed Mr Lingard also shouted at another female about swapping desks.

She alleged at a meeting last May she was berated by Mr Lingard who told her she was 's***'.

The "bullying" began after she started her relationship, Miss Baker told the tribunal hearing in Exeter.

Miss Baker, from Budleigh Salterton, Devon, qualified as a solicitor in 2004, earning £45,000 a year before her dismissal.

She said: "In my career I have never been told by a colleague or supervising partner that my work is 's***'. The treatment came out of the blue. Mr Lingard awarded me a prize in December 2011 after only being at the firm two months (and when I was single).

"He then took to berating me for 1.5 hours and attempted to dismiss me by e mail whilst I was off sick with work related stress and harassment (caused by the Respondent).

"I am of the opinion that Mr Lingard believed he lost control when I started a relationship and this was the true reason for dismissal."

The tribunal judge read her statement which stated: "Mr Lingard on many occasions told me that he did not want me in a relationship or to have babies.

"I have a text message from Mr Lingard's wife (Fiona Higgins who is a Business Director at Follet Stock) which says 'he (Lingard) does say he doesn't want you in a relationship!!!"

She accused the firm of "a culture of bullying" and "oppression" and said employees were not allowed to talk between the hours of 9am and 1pm, a period they called 'golden time'.

Mr Lingard, managing partner of the law firm which has offices across the Westcountry and London, regularly criticised staff for taking lunch, the way in which calls were taken and leaving the blinds down, she said.

Miss Baker's bullying and harassment claims were denied.

However, the law firm submitted their defence late and had to argue it should be allowed to make their case.

Guy Hollebon, representing the firm at the Exeter hearing, argued that the company's defence should be allowed even though it was after the deadline.

Mr Hollebon said some important clients were impressed with Miss Baker and "seemed to like you" and "you were a real hit with him" but denied this was to do with her gender.

The tribunal judge Mr Carstairs ruled that the law firm could file a defence, revoking his earlier decision.

A full hearing to hear her claims of sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and unfair dismissal is due to be heard at a later date.

Alice Philipson, Telegraph.co.uk

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