The U.K.’s Solicitors Regulation Authority has opened an investigation into Dentons over an employment discrimination case filed against the global legal giant.
The inquiry relates to a dispute between Dentons and Bina Hale, a former recruitment manager at the firm’s office in Milton Keynes, England, which was heard last year.
Hale, who was fired by Dentons in January 2017, claimed that she was discriminated against for taking maternity leave and was “subjected to detriment” and unfairly dismissed.
In December, an employment tribunal in Bury St Edmunds, England, ruled in favor of Hale, stating that there was no consultation with her prior to the decision being made by the firm and that Hale was “pre-selected” for redundancy as she had been absent on maternity leave.
Dentons said that while the firm “fundamentally disagreed” with the tribunal’s decision, it had conducted an internal investigation to ensure that the staff named in the decision had not behaved improperly.
“Consistent with our regulatory obligations we informed the SRA about this investigation and, to assist them with their own review of this matter, voluntarily shared our report with the SRA,” Dentons said in a statement. “We expect the SRA to conclude that review within the next few weeks.”
Hale’s dismissal was also called into question by the tribunal’s finding that Suzanne Barnes, a human resources business partner at Dentons, had destroyed notes from a meeting at which Hale was selected for termination. With regards to Barnes’ credibility, the judgment asked, “Why would she do that? Was she hiding something?”
As there were no recorded notes of the scoring system used to determine who would be made redundant, the employment tribunal’s judgment stated that this gave an “impression something was being hidden […] or deliberately fudged.”
An SRA representative confirmed that that the body, which regulates solicitors in England and Wales, was “collating all relevant information before deciding on any next steps.”
Dentons, whose U.K. arm earlier this year ousted a partner from Scottish legacy firm Maclay Murray & Spens for inappropriate workplace behavior, said in its statement that “diversity and inclusion are both very important priorities for the firm.”
“We recently reviewed our maternity policy to ensure it is aligned with market best practice, and have also enhanced our family friendly policies to support working parents in various ways with both work-related and personal family challenges,” Dentons said. “We are committed to a workplace free from discrimination.”
Earlier this week, Dentons suspended Shane Stevenson, a corporate partner in its Edmonton office, after he was charged with impaired driving in the hit-and-run death of a Canadian teenager. Stevenson, 47, reportedly had a history of infractions for drunk driving, as noted by Above the Law. He is set to appear in an Alberta court on May 2.