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Swansea solicitor loses employment claim against legal aid firm

Constructive dismissal, age discrimination, and breach of contract claims dismissed by tribunal

21 June 2017

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A Swansea solicitor who believed he had been ‘frozen out’ of his job following changes to his former law firm, has lost his employment claims – including one for age discrimination.

Paul Wilson, aged 63, made claims against South Wales-based criminal solicitors Wilson Devonald Griffiths John for constructive unfair and wrongful dismissal, age discrimination, failure to pay holiday pay, and breach of contract for failing to pay his practising certificate.

The hearing was held at Cardiff Employment Tribunal in February and Judge Cadney said the decision would be announced at a later date.

Now the judge has found in favour of the legal aid firm which had opposed all the claims. The judge decided, however, that Wilson was entitled to five days’ holiday pay.

The tribunal was told that Wilson had been an employee and shareholder at the firm and carried out a number of duties. The judge said Wilson had experienced changes after his firm, Wilson Devonald, merged with another criminal law practice, Griffiths John, in 2014 following cuts to criminal legal aid work.

Wilson said that from March 2015 he began to feel as if he was being frozen out of the business. Part of his work included being primarily responsible for the conduct of crown court files.

He was told that he would not have to attend the magistrates court on a daily basis or the police station and he became office bound. ‘I felt very much alone and under threat from other directors,’ Wilson was recorded as saying in the judge’s ruling.

At a board meeting in March, one director was alleged to have said to Wilson: ‘We need to address the elephant in the room when are you going to retire?’ and, at some point thereafter, ‘It’s nothing personal but you are the oldest.’

Wilson said he wanted to work until he was 65 was forced resign. Wilson believe that if he had not, then he believed he would have been immediately and summarily dismissed.

Judge Cadney said, however, that there had been a voluntary mutual termination of Wilson’s job and that the directors had not wanted him to leave.

The proposal, accepted by Wilson, required him to cease practising with the firm in consideration of which he would receive a dividend and salary up to and including December 2015.

‘It is not alleged that the respondents had even suggested that the claimant was at risk of being dismissed, either immediately or at any stage in the future,’ said the judge.

‘In our judgment there is no connection between the comments made at the meeting and the subsequent agreement and therefore no connection between the comments and the termination of the claimant’s employment which is the specific matter relied upon as the act of age discrimination. Accordingly it follows that the age discrimination claim must fail.’

The claim in respect of the practising certificate was also dismissed as there was no contract in place to provide for such a payment and ‘the claimant had ceased to provide any actual fee earning work for the Respondent which would require a practising certificate’.

Peter Swingler is a freelance reporter

Categorised in:

Risk & Compliance Employment Legal Aid

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CONSTRUCTIVE DISMISSAL AGE DISCRIMINATION BREACH OF CONTRACT