Law firm loses flexible working case

A former employee at Herbert Smith has been awarded nearly £40,000, after a tribunal ruled that the law firm had broken the law by refusing to allow her to work flexibly after she returned from maternity leave and making her redundant.

The tribunal, which found Herbert Smith guilty of direct sex discrimination, sex victimisation, unfair dismissal and contraventions of the Part-Time Workers Regulations, also ordered the firm to offer Michelle Langton a new role within the company

Herbert Smith is to appeal against the decision, which will be heard by the Employment Appeal Tribunal on 4 and 5 August.

Langton, who had worked for Herbert Smith for six years, returned from maternity leave in April 2002, on a part-time basis, which included half a day working from home.

In September 2003, she came under increasing pressure from her new line manager, George Kalorkoti, to revert to working during the firm’s “core hours”, the tribunal heard.

She was told there was “no flexibility” for her to continue to do some of her work from home and that her childcare responsibilities were “not the concern of Herbert Smith”.

Kalorkoti said that Langton’s future career at the firm depended on whether she was “planning on having any more children”.

Langton raised a grievance about Kalorkoti’s treatment of her and lodged proceedings under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.

The tribunal also found one of the firm’s senior partners, Paula Hodges, to have victimised her during the grievance procedure in order to protect the firm’s interests.

Having lodged the grievance and proceedings, in January 2004, Langton was made redundant while pregnant.

Jenny Watson, acting chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said: “In the 21st century, it is astonishing that a senior manager in a law firm could think that a women’s career potential ends when she starts a family.

“There is no reason why part-time and flexible working should not be available to people working in senior professional roles and the tribunal’s decision makes this very clear. By being so inflexible in its treatment of her, Herbert Smith lost a valuable employee.”