Rachael Singh, Accountancy Age, Wednesday 6 October 2010 at 12:40:00

Sex discrimination claims at Mazars sends warning to firms to keep the lines of communication open with employees

Mazars hit the headlines this month when it was revealed that its former partner, Fiona Hotston Moore had filed a claim of sex discrimination against the firm.

It has ?vigorously? denied the claim and says its remains proud of its ?steadfast commitment to diversity?.

However, such an accusation can cause obstacles for both parties in such a situation. As far as reputation is concerned, protagonists can find themselves either labeled a trouble maker or sex discriminator, which could cause future problems in obtaining a job or trying to recruit the best personnel. In many sex discrimination cases both parties try to settle out of court.

When it gets to tribunal the ?salacious? stuff comes out and sometimes the brand damage is difficult for both parties to rectify.

Going through the tribunal itself is a horrible process according to Mark Mansell, an employments and benefits partner at international law firm Allen & Overy. Litigants often start out angry and determined but that enthusiasm diminishes as the process continues.

In the ?vast majority? of cases the business will try to settle regardless of whether they believe it was in the right or wrong.

Both parties usually want the problem to be resolved sooner rather than later.

There is always a risk things could go wrong at the tribunal and the involved parties would want to avoid bad publicity and minimise the risk. A settlement usually means all information is kept confidential.

It can sometimes come down to a commercial decision, said Shona Newmark, a partner at law firm Ayers Newmark. Does the firm want to pay the solicitors in a tribunal or the claimant in a settlement? Firms can mitigate the risk of damage to their brand through continued communication to its employees on its diversity policies.

Although it is obvious, it is often a strategy that is easily lost in large businesses, said Mansell. Firms need to communicate clearly their diversity and equal opportunities measures to filter through all levels of the employment structure.

Last year, 51% of sex discrimination cases were withdrawn, according to the Ministry of Justice Tribunals Service. However, just 85 cases, or 2%, of sex discrimination claims that were submitted were successful. This is in comparison to 4% which were unsuccessful (or 130 cases in 2009); 17% that were struck out (620 cases); and 1% that were dismissed at the preliminary hearing (54 cases), according to the figures. ACAS conciliated 24% of disputes.

A tribunal date for Hotston Moore and Mazars is due to be scheduled next year and will take place at the East London Tribunal Service.

Mazars ? the merger timeline

Mar 2006 ? Fiona Hotston Moore is appointed managing partner at MRI Moores Rowland

Apr 2007 ? Hotston Moore announced all eight partners and 67 staff were merging with Mazars to create a 90m firm ? almost seven times larger than MRI Moores Rowland. Hotston Moore is to take a UK board position at Mazars

Mar 2010 ? Hotston Moore and Mazars part company. Mazars confirms Hotston Moore did not sit on any boards at the time of leaving.

Jun 2010 ? Hotston Moore appointed partner in audit and business advisory at Crowe Clark Whitehill (formerly Horwath Clark Whitehill). She is joined by former MRI Moores Rowland, and latterly Mazars, partners Helen Clarke, Robin Stevens and Stephen Bullock.

Sep 2010 ? Former MRI Moores Rowland and latterly Mazars partner Leo Malkin joins Crowe Clark Whitehill.

Further reading:

Mazars faces sexual discrimination claim from former partner