A TOP lawyer who was ‘sobbing uncontrollably’ from stress at work could make millions after launching a legal bid over her ‘intolerable workload’.
Lawyer Joanna Torode, 46, says working for international law firm Ropes and Gray was so “awful” she had a nervous breakdown and cried on the job.
She reckons she found herself with an “incessant” workload after an “exodus” of colleagues and was often the last to leave at night.
A court heard she had an emotional breakdown over Christmas 2017 and had been unable to work since being admitted to hospital in April 2018.
The former lawyer is now suing the company for damages for the untimely end of her budding legal career.
Ms Torode, from Whitechapel, east London, is seeking at least £200,000 from the law firm but could receive millions over her claim for loss of her ‘substantial’ salary.
The US firm opposes the damages offer, saying that as a high-earning lawyer in the city, Ms Torode was expected to work long hours at times.
They also deny that her workload was ever excessive and instead suggest that she was “too focused on promotions”.
Ropes and Gray also claim that she cried over Christmas because she was ignored while other co-workers moved up the career ladder.
The High Court heard that Ms Torode started working at the company’s offices in Ludgate Hill in June 2017 as a specialist in financial crime and money laundering regulation.
Her solicitor Jeremy Hyam QC told the court she had joined the firm’s “government enforcement” team as a “salaried lawyer”.
However, only two and a half months later, there was an “exodus” of his team, with several colleagues having left to join another company.
Mr Hyam says this left her as the only English-qualified lawyer on the team, so that overnight she was faced with “a dramatically increased workload and responsibilities”.
Her working conditions became “chaotic, stressful and pressured” and she told her employer she needed support.
He told the court: “Not only would she often be the last lawyer on her floor to leave in the evening, but she would frequently work weekends.
“But the intensity and pressure of his work has been heightened considerably given the absence of any effective support at junior and senior level, and the absence of any effective teamwork.
“In late November and early December 2017, the claimant was feeling exhausted and she was showing incipient signs of major depression with her mood deteriorating.”
Mr Hyam said she was ‘visibly upset’ after learning she would not be promoted despite two other colleagues being promoted.
He added: “Her obvious upset and sobbing was a significant event that went beyond a brief loss of temper.
“It was seen by others and was a clear indication of the fragile emotional state she was in due to the relentless and overwhelming work pressure she had been under.”
He claims the company should have been more supportive of his obvious emotional issues, but instead told him that getting angry in the office was ‘not appropriate conduct’ and could hurt his chances of future promotion.
Ms Torode fell ill in April 2018 after being told she would face a disciplinary hearing after speaking to a reporter about a client.
She hadn’t realized her remarks could be construed as a “criticism” of their client and gave the interview at a time when she was terrified of “dropping the ball”.
The “heavy and disproportionate” conduct of the disciplinary investigation, including her suspension and the announcement that she could be sacked, had triggered a “sudden deterioration” in her mental health, resulting in her hospitalization.
Accusing Ropes and Gray of causing Ms Torode’s illness, he said: ‘Plaintiff’s mental illness was caused or materially contributed to the negligence, breach of contract and/or breach of statutory duty by the respondent.
“Applicant…now suffers from recurrent, treatment-resistant, moderately severe major depressive disorder without psychotic features with moderate to severe anxiety distress.
“It is unlikely that she will be able to return to her work as a lawyer… The applicant has lost the capacity to exercise the profession she has chosen, in which she was a specialist.”
Ropes and Gray deny that Ms Torode’s workload was excessive, as she was a qualified and experienced lawyer with a “substantial” salary and bonuses.
Robert Glancy QC, defending the firm, said: ‘The work she did in the evenings and to some extent at weekends was normal for senior solicitors in the city who were substantially paid and were neither out of the norm , nor excessive.
“Claimant knew, or should have known, when she accepted the job as a well-paid municipal lawyer, that she sometimes had to work evenings and weekends.
“It is expressly denied that the plaintiff’s workload, whether in terms of the amount of work or the complexity of the work, was in any way excessive or unreasonable for a senior lawyer who was receiving salary and substantial bonuses in a city law firm.
“In particular, it is denied that the situation in which the applicant worked was either chaotic, unduly stressful or excessively pressured.”
The company also claims it focused “excessively and unrealistically” on promotion and was told it would not be stepping forward privately before the public announcement in 2017.
Mr Glancy says she ‘usually’ got angry when she didn’t get what she wanted, and was ‘angry and upset’ when she found out two colleagues would be promoted.
They deny claims that she had a ‘seizure’ and told the court she ‘greatly exaggerated’ the events.
He says the disciplinary process that was put in place after she granted the interview was a “reasonable and appropriate” response to a “gross error of judgement” on her part.
She knew she should only give an interview after informing the company’s public relations department, but she did it anyway, he said.
“In the circumstances, Plaintiff’s suspension was justified and appropriate and Defendant had no knowledge, real or implied, of Plaintiff’s alleged precarious mental state at the time.”
Claim and defense documents have been filed at the High Court in London, but the case has not yet been heard by a judge.