Truro solicitors' firm Follett Stock denies that lead partner bullied woman
TRURO solicitors' firm Follett Stock has denied allegations of bullying by a lead partner said to have told an employee he did not want her to have a relationship or to have babies.
Kate Baker, 33, claims she was sacked from her £45,000-a-year job by Chris Lingard because of her gender after she formed a relationship, an employment tribunal judge was told last Tuesday.
In her statement to Exeter tribunal judge Christopher Carstairs, she claimed: "Employees are not allowed to talk between 9am to 1pm and they call this 'golden time'.
"Employees are often criticised by Mr Lingard."
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Guy Hollebon, representing the firm, argued that its defence should be allowed, even though it was after the deadline, and the bullying and harassment claims were denied.
Miss Baker, from Devon, said in her first two weeks at the firm's office at Threemilestone, she saw one woman reduced to tears by Mr Lingard, who shouted at another about swapping desks.
She claimed he was aggressive with staff and regularly criticised them, including over taking lunch, the way calls were taken, a sign not being displayed properly, the radio not being switched on, or in the right place or station, blinds being shut, leaving at 5pm and looking miserable or grumpy. She also said she was expected to work at weekends, unlike married male colleagues.
She alleged Mr Lingard berated her for 90 minutes, swore at her, tried to dismiss her by e-mail while she was off sick with work-related stress and harassment caused by him – all after giving her a prize in 2011, two months into her time there.
She felt, "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."
She accused the firm of "a culture of bullying, oppression, and lack of good systems and support for the employees ...".
Barrister James Bax, for Miss Baker, said: "There was an aggressive culture and a golden time when staff could not talk to each other." He claimed Mr Lingard used blonde Miss Baker as a "distraction" at meetings where important clients "seemed to like" her appearance.
Mr Carstairs overturned his earlier ruling that the law firm could not file a defence.
A full hearing into Miss Baker's claims of sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and unfair dismissal is due at a later date.
Follett Stock claimed in a statement to the West Briton on 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."