Northern Ireland

Belfast solicitor wins £273k in equal pay case

Staff at a law firm Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The law firm C&H Jefferson was found to have breached the Equal Pay Act

A Belfast solicitor has been awarded £273,000 after an industrial tribunal found she had not been paid the same as some male colleagues.

The tribunal found four of Margaret Mercer's colleagues - three men and one woman - were promoted to new jobs with higher salaries.

But it ruled the work they had carried out in their new roles was comparable and did not merit higher pay.

The firm C&H Jefferson was found to have breached the Equal Pay Act.

A spokesperson for the former directors of the firm said they intended to appeal against the ruling.

Ms Mercer joined the company, which has since merged with DWF, in 1999 and was promoted to the role of "salaried partner" in December 2008.

In June 2009 three men and one woman who had also been salaried partners missed out on promotion to the higher role of "equity partner".

The tribunal found C&H Jefferson was worried their morale would be damaged and that they might leave the firm and so promoted them to a newly created position of "salaried partner with access to profit share".

'Office rumour mill'

Of those four staff members, the woman and two of the men had their salaries increased from £60,000 a year to £80,000 a year, while the other man's salary increased from £60,000 to £85,000.

All four also received a 20% bonus on any billing totalling more than £200,000 a year.

In June 2014, two of the men were no longer to be entitled to that bonus but their salaries were instead increased to £99,500.

The tribunal heard that Ms Mercer did not find out the men had been promoted because it was not announced internally and she discovered the news through "the office rumour mill".

She asked a director of the firm when she could apply for promotion to the same level as her four colleagues but was told there would be no more movement in the firm for the foreseeable future.

She raised an internal grievance but was told her work was "not as demanding as that of a salaried partner benefiting from a profit share arrangement".

But the tribunal found that she had been employed in "like work" and ruled in her favour.

She told BBC News NI she was pleased with the outcome.

A spokesperson for the former directors of C&H Jefferson said: "The tribunal has taken more than two and a half years to reach its decision.

"We are disappointed by the outcome and concerned by this exceptional delay.

"We are of the opinion that the decision is erroneous in several respects and we have applied for a review. We also intend to appeal the decision."

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