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Lawyer considered ‘too expensive’ was discriminated against when rejected

A tribunal has ruled that the decision to deny a lawyer work because he was ‘too expensive’ was an act of age discrimination.

The Manchester tribunal found that Mr Levy’s age was the reason for McHale Legal not to employ him. The tribunal stated that this contributed to the company decision to not employ him even though he was fully capable of doing the job. Mr Levy was also the only candidate to apply for the position.

When Mr Levy applied for the posting he was 57 years old and had been a practising solicitor since 1985. The position he applied for with McHale Legal asked for a person with at least five years PQE (post-qualification experience) which Mr Levy had.

At the interview Ms Udalova-Surkova told Mr Levy that the position needed to be filled as soon as possible as a senior associate was leaving. The work was already piling up as new instructions came in.

On asking Mr Levy about the salary he required Mr Levy told her that because the position was in Manchester he knew that the salary level would be lower than in London, where he would expect to be paid in the region of £60,000 per year.

Mr Levy suggested that the leaving salary of the associate who was leaving might be a good indication of salary. The associate was paid £42,000 p.a. Mr Levy suggested that he would be prepared to work for £50,000 for the first three months. He also offered to work on a self-employed consultancy basis.

Meeting with other department heads the following day Ms Udalova-Surkova suggested that Mr Levy had asked for a salary of between £50,000-£60,000. In effect, she overstated what Mr Levy was looking for and suggested that he may be ‘too expensive’ and did not ‘cover our needs.’

Mr Levy received an email on 12th March to say that his application had been unsuccessful. The email stated that ‘we regret to inform you that at this stage we would not require your services as we have decided to go for a 3-5 PQE solicitor to train to our specific requirements.”

At that time the excess work was covered by Udalova-Surkova and an Israeli lawyer who was not qualified in Wales and the UK.

Mr Levy then brought a claim for age discrimination against McHale Legal. Responding, the company stated that although the advert had said they required a 5+PQE solicitor, this had been to test the market and make a decision as to whether they could recruit anyone with this level of experience.

McHale Legal stated that they were aware that a higher solicitor would command more salary, and that they intended to monitor the situation and consider ‘junior hire.’

 In its judgement the tribunal said that the notes given to them from the management meeting gave no indication that the application received from Mr Levy has received any consideration.

The notes made by Udalova-Surkova simply stated that Mr Levy was ’expensive and did not cover all the needs.’ Additionally, the management had been incorrectly told that Mr Levy wanted a salary of between £50,000 and £60,000 and no mention was made that he had in fact said that he would consider a salary around £50,000.

Judge Langridge stated that the lack of formal training in equality and diversity issues was apparent from the company’s complacency along with the aggressive defence of the claim. Continued threats by the defendant to report Mr Levy to the SRA showed an employer impervious to the fact that they may have discriminated against a prospective employee.

Rather than to keep an open mind and discuss further salary issues with the claimant, the company deprived him of the opportunity to obtain employment. He was also denied the opportunity of discussing salary levels.

Mr Levy will hear about the compensation he will be awarded at a later date.

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