‘Ballbreaking’ female lawyer wins £150k after being sacked for complaining about gender pay gap

‘Ballbreaking’ female lawyer wins £150k after she was sacked for complaining about being paid less than her male colleagues

  • A female lawyer who was sacked has won over £150,000 in a sexism case
  • Helena Biggs, 47, sued shipping insurance firm, A Bilborough and Company
  • Claims she heard director Ian Barr tell a female colleague to ‘keep her legs shut’

Solicitor Helena Biggs, 47, has won over £150,000 in a sexism discrimination case after successfully suing an international shipping insurance firm

Solicitor Helena Biggs, 47, has won over £150,000 in a sexism discrimination case after successfully suing an international shipping insurance firm

A ‘ballbreaking’ female lawyer who was sacked after complaining she was paid less than her male colleagues has won over £150,000 in a sexism case.

Solicitor Helena Biggs, a 47-year-old mother of two, successfully sued international shipping insurance firm, A Bilborough and Company, for sex discrimination in 2020.

Now, she has been awarded £151,811 in compensation.

She claims she heard director Ian Barr tell a female colleague to ‘keep her legs shut’ on hearing that Ms Biggs was pregnant and remarked of another that she ‘looked like a dyke’.

She claimed to have witnessed repeated sexist behaviour from male bosses at the firm she joined in 2003.

The solicitor was allegedly warned she was in danger of scoring an ‘own goal’ when she demanded to know why her salary wasn’t the same as a male executive she shared an office with.

The Bristol University graduate – who was criticised for being ‘pushy’, ‘overambitious’ and a ‘ballbreaker’ – claimed she suffered a ‘campaign of victimisation’ that ended in her dismissal as a result of her complaint.

And she said the firm’s use of her as an ‘enforcer’ to tackle underperforming staff led to her being viewed in the office as the ‘Wicked Witch of the West’.

As part of her case Ms Biggs alleged that she had witnessed repeated sexist behaviour from male bosses at the firm she joined in 2003.

Mr Barr also tried to play down an incident when Ms Biggs complained she had been groped by a lawyer representing one of the firm’s clients during a lunch, she claimed.

Meanwhile her direct manager Steve Roberts – who described her as ‘overly dominant’ and ‘incredibly ambitious’ – advised her to ‘use her charms’ to win him round.

The tribunal heard that the qualified solicitor, from Redhill, Surrey, was promoted to Associate Director at the company – where she worked as a claims executive – in 2010.

In 2013 she accidentally discovered that a similarly ranked male colleague was getting paid £2,000 a year more than she was, a disclosure that she found ‘particularly upsetting’ but that she decided to keep quiet about.

In 2015 she raised the issue with Mr Roberts.

‘Mr Roberts responded by telling her that she should be careful and that the issue could be “dangerous”,’ the tribunal heard.

A 47-year-old mother of two solicitor Helena Biggs successfully sued international shipping insurance firm, A Bilborough and Company, for sex discrimination in 2020

A 47-year-old mother of two solicitor Helena Biggs successfully sued international shipping insurance firm, A Bilborough and Company, for sex discrimination in 2020

He told the hearing that pursuing this issue could be an ‘own goal’ for Ms Biggs and she would be better off leaving it alone.

However, she persisted and in October the firm agreed to give her a pay rise although it did not backdate the award to 2010 because, Mr Roberts said, it had paid for her to go on a management course.

Over the following two years Ms Biggs claimed she was ‘victimised and targeted’, the tribunal heard, being unfairly criticised, overburdened and losing out on promotion and training opportunities.

She launched a grievance, accusing Mr Roberts of abusing his power and ‘exhibiting intimidating or demeaning behaviour’.

She also claimed he had acted improperly over a $1million insurance claim involving a consignment of rice.

The majority of her complaints were dismissed by the firm and there was a discussion about whether Ms Biggs – who had been signed off sick – should return to work.

However, Mr Barr conducted a staff survey which he said indicated that she would be unwelcome back in the office.

East London tribunal concluded that Ms Biggs had been unfairly dismissed and had been the victim of sex discrimination, victimisation and harassment

East London tribunal concluded that Ms Biggs had been unfairly dismissed and had been the victim of sex discrimination, victimisation and harassment

After concluding that her relationship with the directors and other staff had broken down, the firm sacked her in January 2018.

However, the East London tribunal concluded that Ms Biggs had been unfairly dismissed and had been the victim of sex discrimination, victimisation and harassment.

In relation to his ‘keep your legs shuts and ‘dyke’ remarks the tribunal criticised Mr Barr for ‘derogatory comments’ which ‘stereotyped’ women.

It said Mr Roberts had been ‘sexist’ and ‘clumsy’ to describe Ms Biggs as ‘pushy’ and suggest she ‘use her charms’ on him.

‘This is a comment often made to females in the media and in society,’ the judgement found. ‘It is highly unusual to see a reference to an adult man using his charms.’

The tribunal concluded that by the end of 2017 the firm wanted her gone ‘as she had challenged their authority and had caused them difficulties’.

The difficulties included her complaint of unequal pay and her allegations surrounding the $1million insurance payout, the judgement found.

These were the real reasons for her dismissal, not her relationship with directors and staff, it said.

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