Travers 'discriminated against pregnant trainee', tribunal hears

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  • You go girl!

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  • This woman is incredibly naïve if she thought that the firm's graduate recruitment spiel about "no late hours" were actually true.

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  • If the allegations are true certain people at this firm sound truly dreadful. Awful PR.

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  • My wife once worked there. A terrible environment for women by all accounts. I'm surprised these types of places are still around today.

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  • You go girl. I applaud and salute you!

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  • No-one but the parties involved can obviously provide much insight on her case but I'm surprised by the claim of general maternity discrimination - especially given the number of women at Travers on flexible work arrangements etc. I think a partner was actually made up last year while on maternity leave (which is pretty unusual for the industry).

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  • Sorry to be negative but she was naïve to think city law firms (in general) would be family friendly. I wish it was different but it is not and I fear it will never change (female law graduates take note in terms of your expectations for a family - ensure you have a salary for a 24/7 nanny or be open minded about career paths). Sure there are more senior females with flexible working arrangements but don't doubt how incredibly hard they had to work for them, that the flexibility is much more on paper than in fact (they still have the nannies) and how long they waited for the right window (not during their training contract) to get pregnant. City law firms will always be like this - very bright female graduates - there may be equally well paid / intellectually satisfying careers without this barrier so seriously consider alternatives to city law

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  • Anon at 12.36 I do not know the rights and wrongs of this case, but as a male partner in a major city firm in my 50's I am disgusted to hear it said that she was naive to expect equal treatment. She was entitled to expect equal treatment and most of us wantnt her to have it. There are enough young decent people entering the profession for us to get our way.

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  • Anonymous | 15-Feb-2013 12:55 pm I am not saying she did or did not have equal treatment. I am saying to bright female graduates at university to take into account what it takes in reality to have a successful long term career and a baby in a city law firm - and that they should consider other career options where there may be excellent pay and prospects but also a different attitude to maternity offering a more long term view of the employees potential.
    (For the avoidance of doubt my last sentence does not pre suppose that the woman in question had the potential (or did not have it) nor that any successful well paid long standing career (law or otherwise) does not require you to demonstrate absolute dedication and ability.

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  • I know of a partner in a top 25 firm who was frantically sending e-mails at 3am when she had already started going in to labour several weeks prematurely. I can’t see how this culture will change unless a) clients stop demanding ridiculous amounts of work to be conducted in skin tight deadlines or b) certain law firms stop pandering to said clients’ demands and manage expectations a bit better. Neither will ever happen for as long as profit is the ultimate motivator.
    At the end of the day, most large law firms are processing plants operating almost constantly and anybody who takes time off to have a baby is implicitly expected to work until they pop or is implicitly marginalised in favour of those with similar qualities who will/can be around to work, work, woooooooooork.
    To be brutally honest, the claimant was naïve to think that becoming pregnant whilst a trainee would not implicitly damage her chances of being kept on. If I was her I would have delayed my becoming pregnant for a while until I had a permanent role. Granted equality should mean that there should be no need to do this, but the practical reality is a little different.

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  • I am afraid this reflects very poorly on Travers Smith

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  • This incident and the comments above reinforce my intention to discourage my two teenage daughters from pursuing careers in the law.
    However well intentioned any law firm may be, the practical reality is that there will never be genuine flexibility for mothers.

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  • I am a male partner in the London office of a global law firm. We have had long and serious strategic discussions about ensuring that the law firm environment is able to recognise working mothers. The world has changed since the days of signet rings and port after a long lunch. Our clients are female, our best and brightest fee earners are female and it would be utterly naive for us to behave in a way that doesn't recognise this. Travers Smith much be a dinosaur not to have thought about this until today. I am disgusted, yet amused by a firm that probably considers itself a business.

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  • The only people being naive here are those commenting. Where in the article does it say that the trainee actually believed the stuff about working hours? The extract from her witness statement simply points out that what is said about working hours is not correct, which is exactly the type of easy and obvious point you would expect a claimant's witness statement to contain. I suspect that the informal way in which qualification decisions are generally made in city firms may leave Travers a little exposed here.

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  • Travers Smith should not be judged just yet. Lets wait for the outcome of the tribunal please!

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  • I find it rather sad that several of the comments here assume that things will never change. We are the first generation born and raised within the era of equal opportunities legislation and widespread 2-working-parent families. With that in mind, things must and will change, and in fact are already changing as the old guard move on and working mothers become the norm, both in law firms and the wider world. However, it sometimes takes brave people like Ms Tantum to challenge prejudices and outdated assumptions. I suspect this publicity may damage her personal career prospects but it may also make this firm and others sit up and take notice, and think twice about how they deal with pregnant lawyers - for that I think we have to applaud her.

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  • Sorry people but we need a dose of realism. Whilst it would be fantastic to say there is equality there simply isn't. As a woman in law I am realistic to know that as and when I decide to have children, my career will suffer. I won't be made up whilst I am pregnant/ on mat leave and my firm will not recognise the constraints of pregnancy vis a vis hours and maintaining contacts (where a lot of business will be done over alcohol). Unfair? Possibly. Still, I don't want positive discrimination or God forbid, an easy ride simply because I am a woman. I want to achieve on my own merits and if that means working that bit harder or juggling a few more basis than a make counterpart so be it. I have no idea about the circumstances here (and therefore can't comment either way really) but I would say that there seems to be a certain amount of naivety in play As a woman I understand the business decision of a firm who has invested a huge amount financially in a trainee who might want to cut their losses. Is that right? who knows? I guess it depends on whether there was a business reason to keep her on or to keep investing in her if actually she wasn't up to the job ( and that's not something I or anyone here probably knows with any certainty)

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  • Some of the comments on this thread are unbelievably frustrating and depressing. One "more in sorrow than in anger" response apparently being "Ladies find another career which will let you have babies"??! Seriously?! Best of luck to the ex-Travers trainee in question. Only when firms are shown by tribunals with teeth that they simply cannot unfairly treat female employees with the temerity to fall pregnant and continue with their career will things change. If we are not careful we will retreat to a neo-Mad Men era where professional women are confined to nappy valley once the babies come, tending solely to the careers of their men and the cares of their brood.

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  • @anon 3:26 - Maybe you should wait for the tribunal's judgement before pre-judging.

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  • As a woman who worked at Travers Smith for several years, I can believe entirely that this claim is justified (although I await the outcome of the tribunal etc etc). It was a great place to work for lots of reasons - decent work, collegiate atmosphere and so on - but fairly macho. One male partner told me that it was 'no place for a woman' and to 'get out while you can'. Female associates (myself included) were worried about becoming pregnant and were often ribbed about their sex lives by male partners. Glad that I did get out when I could.

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  • I think the real story here is that such a claim actually made it into the public arena. God knows how many discrimination suits against the MC have been settled quietly with a suitcase full of cash.
    The question is whether (i) TS refused to settle because they feel strongly that they did nothing wrong, (ii) TS refused to settle because the claim was too high, or (iii) the lady wanted it to be public.

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  • "The firm claimed its partners had received diversity and equal opportunities training, while King told the tribunal that a review of the firm’s trainee-scheme policies by the SRA had shown no cause for concern."
    The sentiments implicit in those comments did make me smile on a Friday afternoon in the office.... If those are two principal points of the Travers' defence, my pro bono advice is to settle now.... You are welcome Travers chaps and (possibly fewer) chapesses.

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  • Anonymous | 15-Feb-2013 4:18 pm: Travers Smith made up a corporate lawyer just last year whilst she was on maternity leave - it can and does happen.

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  • They went on a ski trip?! Doesnt sound all bad.

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  • It is shaming on the profession that discrimination like this still occurs and that women are still forced to take a stand against it. It is shaming on law firms that do not step up and acknowledge their best and brightest (men as well as women nowadays) may well need to work flexibly and that does not affect their ability to bill well and do an outstanding job for their clients. We continue to hear stories like this, although as we know most settle before getting anywhere close to an open court. Having jumped ship from a dinosaur which treated me in a similar manner to Ms Tatum, albeit much further on in my career, I can report there are firms out there which do not have the same attitude and are open minded enough to appreciate good people in whatever guise they come. Ultimately the profession needs to change and firms that act in the way Travers are alleged to have done will fall behind client's and staff's needs. A brave stand by Ms Tatum which hopefully will not damage her long term prospects as it has for so many before her that took the same stance. Maybe one of the more positive "city partner" commentators will offer her a job?

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  • "In one case, a partner claimed in an email that a certain candidate was clearly keen on litigation because the trainee had been on the department’s skiiing trip, for which they have to pay a small amount"
    Not strictly relevant to the discussion, but I can't think of anything worse than using my annual leave and savings to go on a holiday with colleagues!

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  • As someone who qualified whilst pregnant at a large law firm, I can say that my experiences were generally very positive and the quality and quantity of work that I received didn't decline during that period (I had a fantastic (male) supervisor). I appreciate that all firms are different but from my own experiences, I never felt that I was at a disadvantage to my peers. I chose to leave that firm on qualification, so I will never know whether my circumstances would have been an issue but I genuinely believe that a reputation as a good trainee would have been sufficient to secure a job. However, on a slight tangent, I would have to say that trying to get back into law on anything less than a 5 day week is virtually impossible at my level of PQE if you aren't returning to the firm you have trained at. It is depressing to feel that you have worked hard to attain professional skills and a strong reputation as a good trainee, but find that the market does not accommodate a working mother. Obviously, I appreciate that firms do allow women (and men) to work part-time etc to help with their family commitments, but in terms of hiring new staff, I just don't think junior lawyers are attractive unless they are working full-time. It will be interesting to see how the case concludes.

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  • None of the accusations made at tribunal surprise me. What does truly astonish me is how much of the commentary in this chain, presumably contributed in the main by 'lawyers', pre-judges the outcome of the tribunal. Anonymous male parter of global law firm @ 3.26pm - I'm surprised you needed strategic discussions when you could have pre-judged their outcome so accurately. By all means criticise; but afford your profession some respect by doing so on the basis of discovered fact rather than supposition.

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  • Good for her. Many women are discriminated against in the city - sometimes to the extent of losing their jobs - and female trainees coming up to qualification are particularly vulnerable to this because of the often informal nature of the hiring process at this stage. But many women do not complain for fear of their reputation, lack of confidence or evidence, and/or fear of the financial drain which a legal complaint might involve. Glad this girl had the confidence to stand up.

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  • No-one seems to have noticed that the asssessment of her abilities as a lawyer was called into doubt. The evening standard reported that she had made major errors in drafting an SPA and she was not up to it. I don't condone any kind of discrimination but I don't think we should condemn until all the evidence is heard. i am a female client of this firm and i have very positive experience of the female associates and the coroporate partners. I have not heard negative comments from the associates with whom I have worked on various deals.

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  • It may be true that trainees are expected to work late, that qualification decisions are made in a shoddy manner and that the head of employment did not bother to explain things to his trainee. However, this is common across the city and none of it amounts to pregnancy discrimination.
    It will be interesting to see if the discrimination allegation can be proven.

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  • These firms want 100% commitment to the work and the clients. In my experience of working at a top City firm, I have never heard a woman (associate, partner...) complain, even mildly, that it is late evening and she needs to go home to see her family. Work carries on with the same energy and devotion all day and into the night. I am sure that inside they are not happy - hence the big exodus of 2 years+ PQEs - but the working culture at the firm would not accept them to bemoan the lack of personal time. Once you have a child, it's only natural that your priorities have to change. Your full commitment to work and clients then turns into a balancing act with your commitments to your child. This, I am sure, pulls you down and makes you a lesser choice when the firm chooses whom to retain on qualification or to promote. Many women choose the family commitments combined with a less demanding job and quit the City firm. There are a few who remain but in my experience they do not seem satisfied with their lot.

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  • @ Anonymous | 18-Feb-2013 12:46 pm
    The point you seek to make is precisely the point which anti discrimination legislation seeks to outlaw and, should this ex-trainee prove her case, the tribunal will be upholding. You appear to be saying that there is an inference that being a mother will naturally impinge on that "100% commitment" of time and emotion apparently required by firm and client. To do so is insulting and effectively implies that City law is one for the men (or at least past 2 year PQE). You can be appropriately committed to your job and not in the office for 60 hours a week, just as you do not have to be all consumed by the intricacies of City law to be an effective lawyer. You may like to try it some time. There is a world beyond the dragons of the Square Mile you know (outside office hours of course)

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  • As an ex associate of the firm I am not surprised by any of this. The firm has a pretty poor track record retaining its female talent generally, but the problem seems particularly acute among the women lawyers who leave to have children - few return. The firm really does have a boys' club culture, worst at partner level where there are very few women even compared with other City firms. Although I'm sad that Ms Tantum has had to bring this case it would be good if she forces Travers Smith to address its poor equality record. If nothing else Ms Tantum will show graduates looking for training contracts that although no City firm may be a particularly good place for (pregnant) women, some firms are definitely worse than others. I wish her well as becoming a mother (and presumably looking for another job) is a demanding enough time without the added stress of suing one's ex-employer for discrimination as well.

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  • What about the other two trainees who were not taken on, were they discriminated against too or were there just not enough places for all 22 trainees?

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  • Is there any reason that (almost) everyone assumes that she was discriminated against? As Annonymous at 9:25 states, there were two other trainess who weren't kept on. Where I've seen this story reported elsewhere it's been said that Travers thought she wasn't up to it; isn't that reason enough not to keep someone on?
    Also, interested to see in a comment above about someone being made up when they were on maternity leave. Hardly sounds like a firm with a negative attitute towards women and/or pregnancy. I can't really comment without all the facts but I find it surprising how many people are quick to jump on Travers without them knowing anything either.

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  • The harsh reality is that clients pay £500+ per hour for immediate availability: if they want assistance, they want it in accordance with their timing. And whilst clients might outwardly support part-time or flexible working, the second it affects them their support goes out the window.
    Let's be honest, most lawyers' jobs are not rocket-science and the reason an NQ is paid £63k at Linklaters is not because that 23 year old is a genius but because that person is committing to work all hours necessary. When I was a trainee and NQ I didn't make any personal plans between 9am on Monday and 8pm on Friday because I was paid to be available: that's the compromise you make for the money and the prestige of working in the magic circle.
    It is no different in other jobs: a researcher on Ant 'n' Dec gets paid £13k because its an awesome job, you work great hours and get to have illicit encounters with celebs; a fresh analyst at an investment bank gets paid £100k because its an awful job, you work all hours and you have to sleep with your MD to get anywhere.
    Most associates now seem to think that law firms can afford for them to work 9.30 to 5.30 (with an hour for lunch) and still pay them the big bucks - they are living in a dream world and need to understand the basic economics of running a business.
    As for "equality", why on earth should two identically qualified lawyers be paid the same salary but one is guarantee the right to go home at 5.30pm without question and the other leaves when their client says so?
    Comment

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  • Of all the comments here, many view the need to have systemic change of how women are treated when they present with the solely women's ability to become pregnant in the legal employment environment. The most common cry of distress calls for all of us to support women in their time of less productivity by shifting the burdens of work to others in the firm, or managing our clients expectations more "realistically", or in ways that the product is pushed out more slowly and at some or even great cost to the client.
    WOW!!
    It's now the client that will directly pay for a woman's choice? How many clients do you think will be willing to take on a firm where there is a possibility that they can not control or have to simply put up with someone's whimsical decision to slow down the litigation process.
    Further, if change is being demanded, where is the demand for change so it is not only women who are the beneficiaries of these social policies? Attitudes about men's rights to reproduce, or men's right to take over paternity leave in these same firms, or men's safety in emotional violence perpetrated against them in these firms by the female "bully's" is conspicuously entirely absent.
    Regardless of the sentiment being expressed, there is less cry for equality than a cry for special treatment, or power and control unique to women, as women.
    Some further self reflection would be helpful.

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  • Travers have had this coming for a long time. I worked at Travers as a female associate and was discriminated against when I became pregnant. I was written off as soon as I said I was pregnant and a partner told me "not to worry about coming back". They rarely take women back after maternity leave and offer no flexible or part time working at all. Most people cannot afford to bring a claim so Travers just keep getting away with it.

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  • I know a trainee at BLP who got pregnant during her TC - not even at the end. She said her HR were very accommodating, she timed her return date to coincide with seat change, and she's been taken on at qualification next month.
    They're not all bad, it seems...

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  • Regarding clients paying for flexibility, I am not sure this has been suggested. Now that I have left private practice I see more clearly that the problem isn't the clients or work usually but the partnership's desire to run things on a shoe string staff to maximise profits rather than resource work correctly. This is more and more a problem in the recession where clearly the partnership are unable to countenance the reality of reduced money in the business. Consistently understaffed departments are the reason that my organisation is seriously considering changing law firms, they would be prepared to pay a bit more elsewhere actually for better service. That way there should be enough lawyers so that a more flexibility is available and we are not relying on overworked hyper stresspots and a void when those individuals cannot be there, which will happen from time to time. The law firms in question are foolish to think clients will not notice and be concerned by the undue stress placed on individuals where for example three fee earners are replaced by one and support staff cut. But what do I know, being a female solicitor who got out of private practice early rather than face being sidelined later on, no family yet and got better work than ever, can't see how this does anything but cause a loss to the firms that trained me where female trainees far outweighed the males and even HR admitted it was easier for males to get the training contract in the first place as firm desperate for boys who could cut it, so who will be left then all the women leave and why ever would they stay?

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  • Whether she was naive or not does not matter, because it is a law (unless it changes) that she deserves equal treatment compared to non-pregnant trainees (girls and lads alike) of same caliber and attitude to work.
    I think that we should try to get a law passed that women lawyers (or lawyers to be) were prohibited to have babies. They should be reasonable and think that they work is more important and to do they little bit to reduce world population.

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  • As a Cambridge graduate, Deputy General Counsel for a NASDAQ listed company and more importantly, mother of two, this is genuinely terrible press for Travers Smith and Andrew Lilley. Whether Ms Tantum will succeed in her efforts, one cannot be sure, yet it is clear that this will plant a seed of doubt in relation to the firm.

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  • "As a Cambridge graduate, Deputy General Counsel for a NASDAQ listed company and more importantly, mother of two, this is genuinely terrible press for Travers Smith and Andrew Lilley"

    To be honest, I didn't know Lilley was the mother of two.

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