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'Bullying' allegation at law firm

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: January 17, 2013

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AN Exeter solicitor has claimed she was sacked from a leading law firm by her boss who told her she was not allowed to be in a relationship or have babies, an employment tribunal heard.

Kate Baker, 33, claims the wife of her manager at Follett Stock, Chris Lingard, even sent her a text message reiterating that he wanted her to stay single.

In her statement to the Exeter tribunal judge Christopher Carstairs, Miss Baker outlined an alleged culture of bullying by Mr Lingard, who is in his 50s, which included workers not being able to talk for four hours a day.

The £45,000-a-year lawyer said in her statement: "Employees are not allowed to talk between the hours of 9am and 1pm and they call this 'golden time'."

Miss Baker, of Budleigh Salterton, qualified as a solicitor in 2004.

She said in her first two weeks at the firm working out of their Truro office in Cornwall in 2011, she saw one woman reduced to tears by her boss and claimed Mr Lingard also shouted at another female about swapping desks.

She also claimed Mr Lingard regularly criticised the staff when he attended the Exeter office where she was most recently based.

The tribunal judge read her statement which stated: "Mr Lingard on many occasions told me that he did not want me in a relationship or to have babies."

Miss Baker alleged in her statement that he criticised staff for taking lunch and that she was expected to undertake weekend marketing activities for the firm because she was "single with no children" unlike her married male partners with families.

She alleged that at a meeting last May she was berated by Mr Lingard who told her she was 's***'.

She said: "The treatment came out of the blue. I am of the opinion that Mr Lingard believed he lost control when I started a relationship and this was the true reason for dismissal."

The tribunal judge read her statement which said: "Mr Lingard on many occasions told me that he did not want me in a relationship or to have babies.

"I have a text message from Mr Lingard's wife which says 'he (Lingard) does say he doesn't want you in a relationship'." She accused the firm of "a culture of bullying, oppression, and lack of good systems and support for the employees", saying: "I went from being awarded prizes and being told I was brilliant and the leader of the Exeter office, to being downtrodden and having my confidence sapped within the space of a few months."

Guy Hollebon, representing the firm at the Exeter hearing, argued that the company's defence should be allowed even though it had been submitted late.

He said Miss Baker's bullying and harassment claims were denied.

Barrister James Bax, for Miss Baker, said a firm that specialised in litigation and employment law should not have filed its defence late.

But the tribunal judge Mr Carstairs ruled that the law firm could file a defence, overturning his earlier decision.

A full hearing to hear Miss Baker's claims of sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and unfair dismissal is due to be heard at a later date.

Terry Falcão, partner and head of employment at Stephens Scown LLP said: "I can confirm that we are representing Kate Baker in an unfair dismissal, sexual harassment and sexual discrimination case against her former employer Follett Stock solicitors. We have just had the preliminary hearing which looked at the issue of our client's former employer failing to lodge their defence before the deadline.

"While I cannot comment on the detail of this case, as it is still subject to legal proceedings, it is clear that discrimination is a very serious issue for employers, no matter what the nature of their business."

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