Shipping firm's smokers sunk at tribunal

Shipping firm Waltons & Morse has been censured for going out of its way to favour smokers after a legal secretary successfully claimed constructive dismissal when she left because of the amount of smoke in her office.

In an out-of-court settlement, the firm agreed to pay Jill Dorrington £3,000 after losing an appeal last month.

When the original London tribunal upheld Dorrington's constructive dismissal complaint, tribunal chairman Neil Leonard said that one of his panel “could recall no instance from his wide industrial experience in which an employer had so leant in favour of accommodating a smoking lobby.”

According to the first tribunal's written judgment, Dorrington's problems began in 1992 when she was relocated to a typing pool in a corridor of the firm's shipping department.

Four of her colleagues were smokers and smoke also drifted into the corridor from the rooms of three fee earners who smoked. Among them were partners Ian Charles-Jones and Michael Buckley who left their doors open.

The problem worsened when the shipping library, next door to the typing pool, was designated a smoking area and a smoke extractor outside the partners' office was moved on their insistence because it made too much noise.

Leonard's judgment says that when Dorrington complained to Charles-Jones “he was dismissive… nor was he inclined to accept the limited restriction which closing his door would have entailed”.

Dorrington was later told by the firm that she would have to put up with the situation or leave. She left at the end of May 1995 and now works for Simmons & Simmons.

Dorrington told The Lawyer: “It was just something I had to do. They cannot treat people like that.”

Waltons & Morse managing partner David Perry was unavailable for comment.