City firm that settled sex discrimination claim out of court faces two new suits

Sinclair Roche & Temperley has paid £30,000 to a former assistant solicitor in settlement of a sex discrimination claim and is facing action from two former secretaries for alleged sexual discrimination and unfair dismissal.

Sinclair Roche agreed in August last year to pay a £30,000 out of court settlement to Tania Merrin, who had worked as an assistant solicitor in its commercial property department.

Merrin, who has not renewed her practising certificate, had alleged unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination in 1995, naming in two separate complaints the head of the property department, Anthony Hurndall, and a partner in the ship finance department, Gavin Le Fleming Shepherd, as well as SRT Personnel, the separate personnel management company the firm has set up.

She signed a gagging clause as part of the settlement with Sinclair Roche just before a tribunal was due to hear her case.

But the firm also faces two other complaints of sexual discrimination and unfair dismissal from two former support staff: Jacqueline Skudder, formerly in the litigation department, and Coral Joyce. Skudder's claim was brought in 1995, and Joyce's in 1996.

Sinclair Roche managing partner Jeff Morgan said the three complaints were unrelated. “Tania Merrin's claim was amicably settled out of court without admission of liability. We are strongly contesting the other cases, which were brought at a time when we were reviewing our equal employment procedures.

“Following the review we are satisfied that neither claimant has been treated unfairly.”

He said his firm had introduced an equal opportunities policy, senior staff training and a harassment complaints procedure as a result of the cases.

Meanwhile, a survey has revealed that one in four young women solicitors say they have suffered sexual harassment in the course of their careers.

A recruitment agency has warned that unless firms improve their management, particularly of female staff, there will be a drain of young talent to other industries.

See The Lawyer Investigates, page five.