Bivonas discriminated against lawyer for being gay, EAT finds

White collar crime firm Bivonas discriminated against lawyer Lee Bennett on the grounds of sexual orientation, an Employment Appeal Tribunal has found.

Gay barrister Bennett launched the claim against his firm after he discovered a note from one of the firm’s partners that accused him of giving work to his “batty boy mate”.

The note falsely implied that Bennett only selected gay barristers and said he should be sacked.  After lodging a grievance, the barrister claimed the firm tried to intimidate him into withdrawing his claim. 

According to the EAT judgment, in May 2010 the firm had carried out its own investigation into the incident.

An initial report by the firm’s managing partner Antony Brown had found that the note was “a personal aide-memoire and was not shown or sent to any other person by Mr Bechelet [appellant and author of note]. The note was never intended to be retained.”

Brown went on to tell Bennett that a full report could not be concluded until he was interviewed. The barrister launched his claim two months later.

The EAT agreed that the content of the memo was “a professional slur of the utmost gravity”.  It also agreed that the conduct of his grievance was discriminatory.

The tribunal considered if a ‘reasonable’ worker would think the memo had put them at a disadvantage.  It decided that other people would have been insulted if the memo had been about them.

The court also found no evidence that heterosexual men had been insulted in the same way as Bennett for being gay. Nor could the law firm provide justification for treating Mr Bennett differently to other employees.

Littleton Chambers’ barrister Brian Lacy was instructed by DWF for the appellant firm.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission instructed Cloisters’ David Massarella for Bennett.