A district judge has been ordered to pay thousands of pounds in compensation to a partner at his law firm for victimisation on the grounds of her sex.
Joe Rice, who is also a prominent criminal solicitor, was told to pay over £11,000 to Yvonne McEvoy, a partner at his legal practice John J Rice and Co.
An industrial tribunal has found that Mr Rice victimised Ms McEvoy by paying her only the minimum statutory sick pay when she became ill in 2009.
The tribunal heard that a male colleague had previously been paid more than the minimum sick pay when he was ill, and that another male colleague's written contract stated that he was entitled to full pay for the first three months of any period of sickness.
Mr Rice yesterday declined to comment on the findings of the industrial tribunal, during which he gave evidence in his own defence.
Four other claims of unlawful deduction of wages, sex discrimination, age discrimination and victimisation were dismissed.
Ms McEvoy (56), who has worked at the firm for 15 years specialising in conveyancing, has been on sick leave from February last year.
She took ill shortly after a dispute with Mr Rice over proposed changes to her work schedule. Mr Rice had wanted her to do more criminal work, as conveyancing work had begun to be affected by the recession, which saw a marked decline in the selling and buying of property.
The tribunal heard that Ms McEvoy had brought significant income to the firm during the years when the property market was doing well. When the economic downturn impacted on conveyancing work, however, Mr Rice spoke to Ms McEvoy about the possibility of her taking on more criminal work.
The tribunal said that Ms McEvoy found the prospect of expanding her role so as to encompass criminal defence work to be “extremely distasteful” and made her “nervous”.
She also did not want to join the rota of solicitors who attend police stations to represent clients in custody, feeling that she was “too old” to begin such work.
The tribunal said they have “great sympathy” for Ms McEvoy as she had worked diligently in the firm for many years and had never wanted to be a criminal defence lawyer. However, the tribunal added that it was reasonable for Mr Rice to seek to persuade her to expand into the field of criminal defence work given the economic circumstances.
Having had a series of meetings with Mr Rice, Ms McEvoy became ill with what was described to the tribunal as a psychological illness.
The tribunal agreed that Ms McEvoy should have received full pay for the first three months of her sickness and decided that the failure to do so was based on the antagonism between Mr Rice and Ms McEvoy before she became ill.
“The claimant (Ms McEvoy) had carried out many years of diligent service for the respondent. She had rarely been sick during all those years. Then she fell sick. Even though she was a salaried partner, the respondent (Mr Rice) immediately took steps to ensure that she would not be paid more than the minimum which he was obliged... to pay her,” the tribunal said.
Ms McEvoy was awarded £11,019, which, including interest, is made up of three months’ net salary plus £3,000 for injury to feelings.