Bevan Ashford to pay damages

Bevan Ashford has been ordered to pay compensation to a trainee solicitor sacked for being drunk in public.

Patricia Durham Hall claimed wrongful dismissal and sex discrimination after a colleague reported her as being “very drunk” and unsteady on her feet in Exeter city centre last December. As a result, she was sacked for gross misconduct.

An industrial tribunal awarded her u900 in compensation for the month's salary she was entitled to under her contract. And it ruled her behaviour did not merit instant dismissal.

Durham Hall denies that she was drunk or had a drink problem and says that she had only drunk two glasses of wine.

However, the tribunal decided Durham Hall “on the balance of probabilities was under the influence of drink that day to the extent she could be regarded as drunk”.

At the time she was on two days' leave and was under severe stress having just returned from a Law Society hearing following a conviction for drink driving.

Speaking after the tribunal, John Evans, head of litigation and her departmental head, reveals to The Lawyer the dismissal came after a series of drink-related incidents at work.

“She was warned that misuse of alcohol was not something that was acceptable. And she was not just drunk,” he stresses, “she was unable to stand up in the middle of town at lunchtime.”

Durham Hall was dismissed under a “catch-all” clause in the Bevan Ashford standard contract which provides for summary dismissal for any unacceptable conduct while at work or in the employee's own time which brings the firm into disrepute or affects its profitability.

Durham Hall, who is now working as a paralegal for small Exeter firm Rundle Walker, was ordered to pay costs of u350 after losing a separate sex discrimination claim.>