Lawyer salary

Merchant Navy lawyer receives £150,000 payout for sex discrimination

A soaring Bantersaurus Rex.


A lawyer who successfully brought a claim of gender discrimination, victimization and unfair dismissal against her former employer, has been awarded more than £150,000 by an employment tribunal.

Marine lawyer Helena Biggs worked at A Bilbrough & Co, a marine insurance management company, from 2004 to 2018, rising to the role of associate director. Previously, she was a solicitor at Barlow Lyde & Gilbert (pre-merger with Clyde & Co) and trained at Ince.

Biggs brought various actions against A Bilbrough and three of its directors. At employment tribunal hearings in 2019 and 2020, she claimed she was unfairly fired following a “campaign of victimization” after raising concerns about unequal pay.

One director, Steve Roberts, had called Biggs “too dominant” and “incredibly ambitious”. The court said they were ‘negative’ statements about Biggs’ work ethic and drive, and ‘would not have been made about a man who wanted to advance within the company and worked hard to achieve it”.

The court also found that Roberts used “sexist language” when he described Biggs as “arrogant”.

Biggs expressed fear that her colleagues would see her as the “Wicked Witch of the West” because she was the person who had to deal with underperformance. In Roberts’ testimony, he said a male colleague described Biggs as a “ballbreaker”, which the court noted was accepted as fact, “even though that person initially described her as a support”.

The court found that Biggs “was a conscientious manager who gave feedback” and “helped” junior and new staff. And “there had been no formal complaints and no grievances raised” against Biggs “in relation to his management style and no allegations of bullying had been raised by staff”.

In another instance, Roberts asked Biggs to “use his charms” to persuade him to do a job, which the court said “was awkward and could be a reference to his gender since it is about ‘a comment often made to women in the media and in society’.

When assigning the cases, Roberts said he would not give Biggs a particular fleet because the fleet operators held sexist views and he could not “force” them to work with a woman.

Comments from another company director, Ian Barr, also featured prominently during the auditions. When Biggs was going on maternity leave, Barr told another employee to “keep her legs closed” and on another occasion described a female staff member as looking like “a dyke”.

The court criticized Barr for his “derogatory” comments, saying it was likely that the women he addressed “may have felt unable to challenge him”. The court added that such a “joke” can be offensive because “not all women want or can get pregnant and it is stereotypical to assume so”.

On another occasion, a customer invited Biggs out for a drink, and Barr allegedly suggested that it might be because the customer was a lesbian. Barr argued he said that to “protect” Biggs, but the court noted that it was “unclear how making that comment would protect her.”

Biggs told the court that during a working lunch she was groped by an associate of a firm that had a close relationship with one of A Bilbrough’s clients. The next day, Biggs reported the incident to Barr. But he wasn’t sympathetic about it, she claimed, and tried to make a joke out of it.

Biggs discovered that she was paid less than a male colleague of the same rank, over a period of five years, and discussed the pay difference with Roberts. But he warned her to be careful, saying it could be “dangerous” if she raised the issue with management.

Biggs persisted and A Bilbrough eventually agreed to give him a raise. But he did not backdate the payments for the entire period, saying it was because the company provided financial support for Biggs’ MBA. However, the court noted that A Bilbrough had not previously suggested to Biggs that funding for the course would be tied to his salary.

Roberts gave Biggs a list of goals that “represented an excessive and impossible workload,” the court found, and he “brought them together because of her gender and to create an oppressive environment for her.”

Biggs filed an internal grievance for various issues, including that she had been victimized due to her unequal pay complaint. She also accused Roberts of abusing his power as a manager and “behaving intimidatingly or demeaningly.”

In the grievance outcome, Barr upheld parts of the complaint, but did not agree that there was discrimination or that Roberts abused his authority.

A Bilbrough later terminated Biggs’ employment, citing personality conflicts due to “irreconcilable differences” between Biggs and Roberts.

The court ruled that Biggs had been unfairly fired, finding that A Bilbrough had wanted to get rid of her when she ‘challenged their authority’ and ’caused them difficulty’ with her grievances, including her inequality claim of remuneration.

In a judgment for damages, the Employment Tribunal has now ordered A Bilbrough to pay Biggs a total sum of £151,811, including £53,840 for hurt feelings and £28,581 for loss of past wages.

When the initial judgment came out, a source told RollOnFriday: ‘The behavior that the judge in this case found to be unlawful is common in maritime law firms and so far male bosses have benefited from great impunity.”

Biggs said: “The size of this award reflects the company’s very poor behavior in this matter. Although part of it was gender discrimination, the court said the main reason for my dismissal was that I brought to light alleged wrongdoing by the directors of the company .”

She added: “Like me, many whistleblowers lose their jobs for doing the right thing, and that’s why I wanted to bring this case – to highlight this injustice and set the record straight. hour.”

A statement from A Bilbrough said: “We were understandably disappointed with the Tribunal’s outcome which we believe does not accurately reflect the high standards of the business. Nevertheless, we fully recognize the importance of ensuring that any instance of behavior that is not appropriate with our expectations is addressed proactively and robustly.”

The statement continued: “We have therefore taken substantial steps to identify and address all factors of inappropriate behavior. This includes engaging independent third-party experts to thoroughly review our corporate culture and provide a range of additional training on leadership, diversity and inclusion and related training at We are confident that through this process, we have put in place the necessary measures to ensure a safe and inclusive work environment for all.