Truro solicitors Follett Stock's Chris Lingard denies bullying and discrimination allegations
Truro solicitor firm Follett Stock today (Thursday) denied allegations of bullying by a lead partner who was said to have told an employee he did not want her to have a relationship or to have babies.
Kate Baker claims she was sent a text message from the wife of boss Chris Lingard reiterating his view that he wanted her to stay single, an employment tribunal judge was told on Tuesday.
The 33-year-old lawyer alleges that she was sacked from Follett Stock because of her gender after she formed a relationship.
In her statement to 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.
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The £45,000- a-year lawyer said in her statement:"The respondent has stated in their response that while 'striving for legal excellence' it adopts 'an informal and lighthearted approach'.
"In my experience this is completely untrue. Employees are not allowed to talk between the hours of 9am to 1pm and they call this 'golden time'.
"Employees are often criticised by Mr Lingard...and the Respondent does not adopt an 'informal and lighthearted approach'."
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.
And he said Miss Baker's bullying and harassment claims were denied.
Miss Baker, from Budleigh Salterton, Devon, qualified as a solicitor in 2004 and had been handling her own caseload since being a trainee.
She said in her first two weeks at the firm, working out of it's Truro office at Threemilestone, she saw one woman reduced to tears by her boss and claimed Mr Lingard also shouted at another female about swapping desks.
She also claimed she had witnessed telephone conversations where he was aggressive with staff and adopted a similar stance with former colleagues in the office.
She also claimed Mr Lingard regularly criticised the staff when he attended the Exeter office where she was based.
Miss Baker alleged in her statement that he criticised staff for:
* taking lunch,
* the way in which calls were taken,
* the sign outside not being displayed properly,
* the radio not being switched on, or in the right place or station,
* the blinds being shut,
* leaving at 5pm,
* looking miserable or grumpy.
She also claimed she was expected to undertake weekend marketing activities for the firm because "I was single with no children" unlike her married male partners with families.
She alleged at a meeting last May she was berated by Mr Lingard who told her she was 's***'.
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 opinon 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 say,s 'he (Lingard) does say he doesn't want you in a relationship!!!"
She accused the firm of 'a culture of bullying, oppression, and lack of good systems and support for the employees...'.
"I went from being awarded prizes and being told I was brilliant and the leader of the Exeter office, to being downtrodden and having my confidence sapped within the space of a few months."
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.
Barrister James Bax, for Miss Baker, said a firm that specialises in litigation and employment law and 'strives for excellence', should not have filed its defence late.
He said:"There was an aggressive culture and a golden time when staff could not talk to each other."
The barrister claimed that Mr Lingard used Miss Baker was a 'distraction' at meetings where important clients 'seemed to like' her appearance.
Mr Bax said:"She was popular with the chiefs. They were all asking about her."
He said Miss Baker was told she was sacked for making mistakes which included failing to diarise a hearing correctly and Mr Bax said that was 'a delicious irony' because that was exactly what Follett Stock had done with the tribunal.
"What is good for the goose is good for the gander," he said.
Mr Lingard is managing partner of the law firm which has offices across the Westcountry and London.
On his website he says he has the 'ultimate responsibility for everything we do' and says the 'best bits are winning' and the 'worst bits coming second'.
It says he speaks 'plain English' and 'combines aggression with commerciality'.
Mr Carstairs ruled that the law firm can 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.
Follett Stock claimed in a statement to the West Briton today (Thursday): "Kate Baker ... raised no complaint before her dismissal.
"Anyone who knows Follett Stock and our managing partner will recognise her attempted characterisation of our culture and of Chris Lingard as a grotesque distortion of reality.
"Chris is very conscious of discrimination, being severely disabled himself. This makes Ms Baker's decision to base her allegations on supposed discrimination particularly disappointing.
"Of course we deny her allegations, some of which are frankly laughable.
"Her suggestion that our policy of dedicating each morning entirely to our clients' work means that 'nobody is allowed to talk' is a prime example."
It added: "This case is a perfect example of the way in which the law currently favours employees over the legitimate needs of employers."