One of the country’s top law firms has been fined almost £40,000 for refusing to allow a woman employee to work flexible hours, in a case experts say typifies the failure of some employers to adapt to new family-friendly rights for white-collar staff.
The Equal Opportunities Commission said yesterday the case involving Herbert Smith, a top 10 UK law firm, was “absolutely indicative of everything we are campaigning for on flexible and part-time working”. The watchdog is backing Michelle Langton, a former senior manager at the firm, in her legal battle with Herbert Smith.
Next week an employment appeal tribunal will hear an appeal by Herbert Smith against a tribunal ruling – revealed yesterday – that found it was guilty in Mrs Langton’s case of sex discrimination, victimisation, unfair dismissal and breaches of the part-time workers regulations.
The tribunal also ordered the law firm to offer a new position as a business analysis/change manager to Mrs Langton, who was made redundant while pregnant last year. It ruled that it was “not convinced” by Herbert Smith’s argument she could not carry out this role on a part-time or job-share basis.
The tribunal heard Mrs Langton, who worked for Herbert Smith for six years, had come under increasing pressure over her hours when a new line manager was appointed in September 2003. She had been working on a part-time basis, including half a day a week working from home, since she returned from maternity leave in April 2002. But she said that George Kalorkoti, her new manager, had wanted her to revert to working during the firm’s “core hours”.