THOMSONS SOLICITOR'S GENERIC ADVICE ON DISCRIMINATION
We reproduce here an e-mail sent to the UCU activists list highlighting the concerns of a female member in regard to generic & biased legal Services she received from the UCU and Thompsons formerly NATFHE).
>>> "jenna delich" <email@example.com> 27/03/2008 08:54 >>>
I have had some really bad experiences with Thompson Solicitors via what used to be NATFHE as well as more recently via UCU. Namely, in 2004 I was discriminated against by the College that I work in the process of recruitment for a particular vacancy that I applied for at the time. I had no choice but to submit a claim to the Tribunal. I went via the regional NATFHE Office only to be told that I didn't have the case. I went private, hired lawyers and the matter proceeded to the Tribunal. My employer settled the morning of the hearing before the hearing took place.
Since 2004 I was subjected to a campaign of harassment and bullying by my line manager (who was occasionally supported by her very close friend who was also member of our team). I kept complaining over the time, wrote a number of letters of complaint, raised the issues with senior management (with my Union rep attending the meetings) but to no avail. In the end I submitted a grievance which never moved anywhere further than the informal stage, as my employers did everything in their power to prevent the formal hearing from taking place. As I have been having health problems for a long time the entire situation affected my health to the point where I had to be signed off. I was dreaded to think of the day when I'd be signed back to work as I'd have to return to the same place, and continue to be subjected to the kind of treatment by line manager that went on for 3 years. A friend of mine advised me to try to seek resolution at the Tribunal. I approached UCU (regional office again) and was told that they didn't think that I had the case but still chose to put me in touch with Thompsons Solicitors. I was initially approached by their Head of Legal Services in Newcastle who was trying to convince me that I didn't have the case. In the end he conceded that I might have a Disability discrimination case, and told me that he'd contact their local office to ask them to contact me and arrange an appountment. And so they did after some time. Then, on the day of the appointment they rang me to cancel it as the lawyer I was about to see was off ill. With Christmas coming up they couldn't offer me another appointment before almost 3 weeks time. Finally, when I got an appointment I was left to wait for almost an hour. In the end instead of the solicitor I was told that I'd see, a young (and probably not quite experienced) lawyer met with me. He immediately started saying that I didn't have the case. However, as I kept all the documents from the first incident onwards I supported my claims with the documents, and started asking him the type of questions 'If you are saying that I do not have the case then how come...'. He was unable to answer any of them but just went quiet and kept blushing and looking away from me. In the end I left saying that I'd go private, and would sue them after the case's finished.
The purpose of the entire 'delay tactics' (with cancelling the appointments etc.) was aimed at wasting my time and getting past the legal time limit for submitting a Tribunal claim.
However, taught by my past experience with them I went private the very moment I approached the UCU. So, at the time I came to see the Thompson's lawyer (who told me I didn't have the case) my claim was already being dealt with by my lawyers that I hired privately (covered by my home insurance), and was submitted to the Tribunal a week later!
As my employers' lawyers were trying all the tricks in the book to stall the case, the case still hasn't got the the main hearing. They even claimed that they didn't understand what I was complaining about, were trying to confuse the Tribunal, and get my case struck out. The Judge then decided to ask me to attend a pre-hearing which took 2 days,and where I was giving evidence and was cross-examined (grilled) by my employers' barrister for the entire day each time. The recent Judgement that I received (via my lawyers) allowed my entire claim to proceed to the main hearing. What's more, the Judge in an indirect way was passing comments on certain actions (or the lack of them) by my employers.
Had I rellied on Thompson Solicitors my problems would never have been resolved, and would send a message to my employer that they could get away with anything, as there was no chance they could get to the Tribunal.
Based on those two examples of my personal experience I am led to believe that there is something dodgy going on when it comes to legal assistance, and in particular legal representation when it comes to providing legal assistance and representation for the Tribunal matters. I have heard from others that it wasn't the case when it comes to making personal injury claims that go to Civil Courts. The difference between the Tribunal cases, and the Civil Court cases (e.g. personal injury claims) is that at the Tribunal each party pays its own expenses (and cannot recover it from the other party), whereas with Civil Court Cases in most cases the legal expenses are fully recoverably from the 'guilty' party.
There is clearly something dodgy going on. Is it that Thompson's are getting paid a flat fee by UCU which explains why they choose the easiest way (little work for a good fee) by telling people they they didn't have the case or giving similar explanations. That way they are getting what they'd be getting if they went ahead and represented people at the Tribunal the cost of which would be considerably higher of that which the UCU contracted their services for (i.e. 'flat fee'). At the same time, in that way UCU is saving money. Needless to say that the UCU members are picking up the 'tab' with UCU leaving them with no chance of getting justice for their sufferings unless they have a lot of money or a good home insurance to go private.
Is there any way we could turn things around, and change the way the UCU legal services are provided to get our money's worth when we really need help most?