A solicitor branded a ‘ballbreaker’ has been awarded £152,000 after successfully claiming sex discrimination, victimisation and harassment at the employment tribunal.
Ms Biggs, a solicitor specialising in shipping insurance, joined A Bilbrough & Company in 2004 as a claims handler. In 2006, upon informing her boss she was pregnant, he had spoken to another female adjuster and told her to “keep her legs shut”. Around that time, he also made a comment about a female client who had invited Biggs for drinks that their friendship might be because the client was a lesbian.
By 2010 the claimant had been promoted to associate director. Another boss, at a meeting to allocate work, told her she could not be assigned work for a particular shipping operator “because she was a woman”. The rationale for this was that the operator held sexist views and he could not force them to work with Biggs.
In 2013, following a breakdown in her marriage which meant more complex childcare arrangements, the claimant was granted some flexible working measures to help. The same year, a claims director asked for information on salaries and at this point Biggs inadvertently discovered that a male colleague whom she worked alongside was being paid £2,000 more than her.
Despite being upset by this, particularly in the light of recent discussions about workload and management responsibilities, she decided to do nothing but to “put all her efforts into getting herself appraised and in that way, get proper recognition”, according to the judgment.
In 2014 the claimant overheard the claims director describe her as “pushy”, which she found shocking and upsetting. The next day when challenged he replied to her to say that it would not be his choice of word and that if it came from him, it was ill-judged.
Following a lunch with a firm of solicitors, she told a claims director that she had been groped by a senior partner, something which she said was treated as a joke.
The following year, after a change in the custody arrangements for her children, she requested to work from home one day a week. While her boss was initially positive about the request, an HR contact sounded caution saying it could set a precedent.
On 29 April 2015, she left work early following a “shouty” exchange with the male colleague who was being paid more than her. In emails that followed Biggs expressed her frustrations including that she was demotivated and complained about the unequal pay.
The judgment states that Biggs “acknowledged the gap between them was not massive but that it was the principle that bothered her”. She also complained about unequal distribution of work between her and the male colleague.
Her boss described the issue around unequal pay as “dangerous” and that pursuing it could be an “own goal”.
In his witness statement, her boss described Biggs as “overly dominant” and incredibly ambitious and stated that he did not see any sexist overtones in these terms.
A Bilbrough & Co did not have a salary structure tied to job title, but preferred to reward members of staff for their perceived contribution to the business.
By October 2015 the issue of unequal pay was raised at a board meeting where it was agreed to increase the Biggs’ pay to equalise it with her colleague. The tribunal panel found it “highly likely” that the board treated it as a reasonable request for equality of pay, not a reflection of their work. The pay rise was not backdated.
Then, during a period of disruption to her commute into London Bridge, Biggs suffered migraines and suspected heart palpatations and again requested to work from home. The respondent agreed but only on the basis that she would have formally request the flexible working on each day she wasn’t coming to the office. Other colleagues were granted much more flexible working arrangements on an less formal basis.
Biggs told the east London employment tribunal that over the next two years until her dismissal in 2017 she was “victimised and targeted”. She also claimed she was overlooked for promotion.
The judgment in Biggs v A Bilbrough & Company and others found that Biggs’ dismissal was automatically unfair because of her protected disclosures and that, despite much deliberation on whether her claims were out of time, that her complaints of direct sex discrimination and victimisation succeed.
Two years later in a remedy judgment last month, Biggs was awarded a £6,846 basic award, £59,317 compensatory award for her equal pay claim, and injury to feelings relating to the discrimination of £53,840. After grossing up, Bilbrough & Co was ordered to pay the claimant the sum of £151,811.