Eversheds layoff programme ‘unfair’ to male associate

EVERSHEDS has been ordered to pay £123,300 to an associate who claimed he was dismissed unfairly and suffered sex discrimination during the firm’s redundancy programme.

This underlines the increasing management ­difficulties that firms are facing in the wake of the mass redundancies seen over the past two years.

John de Belin, an associate in the real estate investor team at Eversheds’ Leeds office, was laid off by the firm in February 2009 amid nationwide redundancies. He subsequently brought a claim to the Employment Tribunal saying he had been treated less favourably than an associate in his group who was on maternity leave ­during the firm’s ­consultation process.

The tribunal found in favour of de Belin and in a remedies hearing last month ordered Eversheds to pay £123,300 to him. The firm is planning to appeal.

De Belin’s complaint ­centred on the performance-based scoring exercise used to determine who would be at risk of redundancy.
One criterion was lock-up. Lawyers were given a score between 0.5 and 2 depending on how quickly they had secured client payment ­during a snapshot period.

During that period one associate had been on maternity leave. Eversheds awarded her a maximum score of two on the grounds that any other decision would have deprived her of the opportunity to show that she could have scored the maximum, leaving the firm open to a potential sexual discrimination claim from her.

The effect of the decision was to give the associate on maternity leave a total score of 27.5 out of 39, compared with de Belin’s 27. This resulted in her being kept on while he was made redundant.

The tribunal found that de Belin had been treated less favourably because of the automatic score awarded
to the female associate and rejected the firm’s ­interpretation of the Sexual Discrimination Act.

Eversheds is being represented by John Cavanagh QC of 11 King’s Bench Walk and has until 5 May to ­provide its draft grounds of appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

In a statement the firm said: “The tribunal ­disagreed with our decision to act to ensure an employee on maternity leave was not disadvantaged. We were surprised by the decision of the tribunal. We stand by the actions that we took and believe that the tribunal’s ruling is mistaken. We will be appealing.”