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Travers Smith in surprise discrimination defeat

Top 50 City firm Travers Smith has suffered the rare public humiliation of losing a high profile discrimination case after a tribunal found the firm denied a former trainee a place in the firm because she had fallen pregnant.

The Central London Employment Tribunal found that Travers ‘contrived to prevent Katie Tantum from being offered a post as a newly qualified solicitor because of her pregnancy’, according to a statement by Tantum’s solicitors, Leigh Day & Co.

The tribunal found that partners Julian Bass and Andrew King artificially reduced the number of places available in real estate from two to one as a direct result of the pregnancy.

Tantum was represented by Leigh Day barrister Elizabeth George, who instructed Cloisters’ employment and discrimination law barrister, David Massarella. Travers Smith was represented by Essex Court Chambers’ Edward Brown.

The tribunal dismissed Tantum’s further claims that she was denied a permanent place in the tax, corporate and litigation departments.

In a prepared statement Travers said: ‘We really did not expect this decision at all. We are very surprised and disappointed by it. Throughout the proceedings, we thought our evidence was strong. We still believe that, although the employment tribunal has found otherwise on one aspect of this claim.’

Both Bass and King are longstanding members of the firm. Bass is currently head of real estate, while King joined as a trainee in 1986, becoming a partner in 1996.

Travers added: ‘Before we took the decision to defend this case, we reviewed the allegations against us extremely thoroughly with everyone involved, as well as with counsel. If we had not been satisfied with the strength of our defence, we would not have fought the claim.

‘We sincerely regret that one of our former trainees was left unhappy from her experience at the firm, and we will take on board the lessons to be learned. Our trainees, associates and all our staff are fundamental to the future of the firm, and we are determined to do everything we can to ensure that they are all happy here.’

The tribunal made recommendations for the firm to implement to help prevent similar discriminatory decisions in the future.

Elizabeth George said: ‘We are delighted for Katie. It takes courage and tremendous resilience to stand up to your employer, even more so when that employer is a leading City law firm and you are only just embarking on your legal career. All of the witnesses at the tribunal on behalf of Travers Smith were senior partners in that firm.

‘The evidence in this case was very clear: Katie’s level of performance meant that she would have been offered a permanent role at Travers Smith but she was denied that role because she was pregnant.’

George noted that recent statistics from the Law Society Gazette show that men are 10 times more likely than women to progress from trainee level to partner at major law firms.

She added: ‘This is not just an equality issue, it is a poor business model because firms are wasting their initial investment and losing talent.’

Discrimination hearings against law firms are still extremely rare, partly due to victims’ reluctance to take on large law firms but also due to firms’ tendency to settle cases before they become public, with the reputational damage that ensues.

A compensation hearing is scheduled for 5 June.