Firm settles compensation dispute at the eleventh hour

A MANCHESTER firm whose senior partner is seeking election to the Law Society Council on a pro Martin Mears ticket has been forced to pay compensation to a former secretary following the threat of winding up proceedings.

Joan Durkin, of Bolton, won her claim of constructive dismissal against her former firm Latimer Lee, of Prestwich, Manchester, on 13 March.

An industrial tribunal ordered the firm to pay £1,600 compensation for breaching her terms of employment by reducing her work from four to three days a week and for making unlawful deductions from her wages.

But the firm, whose senior partner Colin Lee is standing for the society's Manchester, Salford and Stockport constituency, delayed paying Durkin and indicated that it planned an appeal.

Durkin's solicitor, Alex Megaw, only received her cheque on 21 June, 10 days after serving Latimer Lee with a statutory notice under the Insolvency Act, the first step in winding up the firm.

When The Lawyer contacted Latimer Lee, on the day Megaw received the cheque, Lee described the matter as “insignificant”.

“It has all been settled. She has got her money and we have reserved our right to appeal. There was never any suggestion that the firm could not afford to pay. Frankly I take a pretty dim view of people going to the Press on this.”

Megaw, litigation partner at Davies Wallis Foyster, said: “I'm very surprised it had to get to this stage. I approached Latimer Lee before even threatening this to say 'Look, I don't really have to do this, do I?', but to my amazement I received no reply.”

He said in the 19 years he had been practising he had never known such action to be taken against a law firm. “If the winding up petition had been served it could have been devastating. As soon as it was issued the banks would become aware and would immediately have ceased the firm's accounts. The running of the firm would probably have had to be put in the hands of the Law Society.”

Durkin, who now works as a cashier at the Halifax Property Service, said: “When you are in a bad situation in a job you either put up and shut up or you do something. I decided to do something. But it should not have had to go this far. I think the firm deserves any bad publicity it gets.”