SRA opens investigation into Dentons amid questions over dismissal of HR manager on maternity leave

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has opened an investigation into Dentons over an employment discrimination case filed against the firm.

The investigation relates to a dispute between Dentons and Bina Hale, a former recruitment manager at the firm’s Milton Keynes office, which was heard last year.

Hale, who was fired by the firm in January 2017, claimed that she was discriminated against for taking maternity leave and was “subjected to detriment” and unfairly dismissed.

In December last year an employment tribunal in Bury St Edmunds ruled in favour of Hale, stating that there was no consultation with her prior to the decision being made, and that she was “pre-selected” for redundancy as she had been absent on maternity leave.

In a statement, 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.

The firm said: “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. 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 redundancy. 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 judgment stated that this gave an “impression something was being hidden […] or deliberately fudged”.

A spokesperson for the SRA confirmed that that it was “collating all relevant information before deciding on any next steps”.

Dentons added: “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. We are committed to a workplace free from discrimination.”