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London firm Zaiwalla & Co has been ruled to have carried out intimidatory and threatening conduct during its defence of a sex discrimination claim brought by a former trainee of the firm
The employment appeal tribunal has upheld that an aggravated damages award should account, in part, for the conduct of Zaiwalla & Co's defence in the case. The tribunal has also rejected Zaiwalla & Co's wider appeal of the decision that it sexually discriminated against Jyoti Walia. Zaiwalla & Co unsuccessfully appealed against the findings of an earlier tribunal that stated the law firm had put a "monumental amount of effort into defending those proceedings", which the tribunal ruled "was of the most inappropriate kind". According to the tribunal, this defence included "attacking the applicant in relation to her personal standards of professional conduct and holding a series of threats over her head that would be daunting to any individual, let alone someone about to embark on a legal career". It stated: "The defence of these proceedings was deliberately designed by the respondents to be intimidatory and cause the maximum unease and distress to the applicant." In addition, Sarosh Zaiwalla, senior partner at Zaiwalla & Co, was described as having a "paranoid obsession" about the independence of the hearing, which had been rejected at a preliminary hearing, but which he repeatedly referred to during his appeal. Zaiwalla alleged that the tribunal was not independent, as its members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor, and Walia had worked in the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) soon after she left Zaiwalla & Co. The appeal tribunal described this claim as "a spurious conspiracy theory" and rejected Zaiwalla's submission that it should infer bias by the tribunal. However, the appeal tribunal accepted the opinion of Zaiwalla & Co's counsel Stephen Lennard that the tribunal "fell into error" when equating Walia's symptoms as "mid-range, moderately severe PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]", and thus reduced her injury-to-feelings compensation by £5,000 to £10,000. The appeal tribunal also found in Zaiwalla & Co's favour regarding interest, so total damages were reduced by £5,502 to £37,646. Zaiwalla said that Walia had introduced evidence from Keith Vaz MP, who at the time was a minister in the LCD and was personally supported by Garry Hart, special adviser to the Lord Chancellor, while two further senior officials from the LCD gave evidence on her behalf. "Faced with a heavy contingent of support [for Walia] from the LCD, I had no alternative but to get all my six solicitors to give evidence," he told The Lawyer.