Court fines Zaiwalla for ‘threats’ in sex discrimination claim

London firm Zaiwalla & Co has been fined for behaving in an intimidating and threatening manner during a sex discrimination claim brought against it by a former trainee.

An employment appeal tribunal ruled that an aggravated damages award should partly account for the conduct of Zaiwalla’s defence and it also upheld an earlier decision that the firm had sexually discriminated against Jyoti Walia.

Zaiwalla unsuccessfully appealed against an earlier tribunal, which stated the law firm had put a “monumental amount of effort into defending those proceedings”, which “was of the most inappropriate kind”.

The tribunal heard that the defence included “attacking the applicant in relation to her personal standards of professional conduct and holding a series of threats over her head that would be daunting to any individual, let alone someone about to embark on a legal career”.

Zaiwalla alleged that the tribunal was not independent, due to the fact that the members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor, and Walia had worked in the Lord Chancellor’s Department (LCD) soon after leaving the firm. A number of LCD officials, including Keith Vaz MP, gave evidence on Walia’s behalf.

While this appeal was rejected as a “spurious conspiracy theory”, it was accepted that the tribunal “fell into error” when it equated Walia’s symptoms as “mid-range moderately severe PTSD” [post traumatic stress disorder].

Walia’s injury-to-feelings compensation was reduced by 5,000 to 10,000 as a result. The appeal tribunal also found in the firm’s favour regarding interest, and also reduced the total damages by around 5,000 to 37,646.