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Levelling the playing field: Managing the impact of discrimination and equal-pay laws

Law firms might have modernised dramatically in recent years, but there remains a reputation among many for being old boys’ clubs, with all the working inequalities the term implies. James Davies, joint head of the employment and incentives department at Lewis Silkin, explains what firms need to do to ensure that they meet legislative requirements for diversity and equal opportunities, while ensuring a better, happier workforce.

16 February 2005

Ironic as it may sound, law firms are among the most vulnerable employers to sex-discrimination and equal-pay claims. The most common complaints arise out of pay and promotion decisions, requests to work flexibly (often on return from maternity leave), and harassment. While sex discrimination and equal-pay laws of course protect both women and men from disadvantage related to their sex, the main issue for law firms is avoiding discrimination against women.

It is not uncommon for such cases to reach the public domain (for example, the joint claims of Sian Heard and Sian Fellows against Sinclair Roche and Temperley, and Sarah Collins’s claim against Tarlo Lyons). But these represent the tip of an iceberg, as most major law firms would be able to testify.

Pressures on both claimant and law firm to settle out of the public glare can be compelling. Claims can be costly to fight and defend in terms of both external lawyers’ fees and, in the firm’s case...

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