Legal secretary wins £20,000 from Bates Wells in unfair dismissal suit

Charity law specialist Bates Wells & Braithwaite has lost an unfair dismissal claim brought by one of its legal secretaries.
Last week, the Employment Tribunal found in favour of Wendy Macfarlane, secretary to London partner Philip Trott, following a six-day hearing. It awarded £20,000 in compensation to Macfarlane, which Bates Wells has agreed to pay.
Macfarlane left Bates Wells in September 2000 following a de facto redundancy offer from the firm. She then instructed Patrick Gearon, a partner and employment litigation specialist at West End firm Gordon Dadds, to bring a constructive dismissal suit.
Macfarlane, who worked at Bates Wells for six years, told the tribunal that the problems started when she had a child with cerebral palsy. Gearon said: “The complaint against Bates Wells was that it made life very hard for Macfarlane, for instance by requiring her to work later than her contracted hours.”
Bates Wells has requested extended reasons from the tribunal. Senior partner John Trotter told The Lawyer: “We suggested to Miss Macfarlane that given her personal circumstances, three hours travel a day was too much. We said that should she want to work locally, we would make up the shortfall in wages for one year.
“The tribunal decided that this was a fundamental breach of contract. We believe the tribunal has erred and may appeal once we've seen the full decision.”
Gearon said: “This case demonstrates the care that employers must take if they are to deal fairly with employees. Also, the tribunal found that while some of the incidents complained of by Miss Macfarlane were innocuous if taken separately, accumulated they made a series of incidents which constituted pressure on her to leave.”