Sussex law students help mother win discrimination case
By: Anna Ford
Last updated: Wednesday, 6 November 2019
A new mother who was unlawfully sacked from her job while on maternity leave has won her case in an employment tribunal, thanks to the legal advice from two University of Sussex law students.
Sussex-resident Claire (not her real name) had been working for a major hospitality company when she was fired while on maternity leave. Feeling that her employer’s decision was unjustified but with no money to pay for a lawyer, Claire approached the University of Sussex’s employment law clinic for help. There she met with two students, Deirdre Tinney and Monique Wagner. The students, under the supervision of a qualified solicitor, heard Claire's story and then sent her a letter containing detailed written legal advice which told her that they believed she had three potential claims in an employment tribunal: wrongful dismissal, unfair dismissal and maternity discrimination.
Armed with the advice from the University of Sussex law students, Claire pursued her claim, including bravely representing herself at the hearing where she was cross-examined by a lawyer for the company. The panel of three – one judge and two ‘lay’ tribunal members – agreed with Claire and the law students and concluded that all three claims were “well founded”. They awarded her compensation of over £30,000.
Claire said: “ I am grateful to the University of Sussex’s law students who listened to my experience and gave me great legal advice. Without that, I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to go ahead with the tribunal. I stuck to the advice I was given by the students during the hearing and I am thrilled to have won my case.
“The free law clinic at the University of Sussex does such an important job. I couldn’t have afforded a lawyer so I wouldn’t have known that I could have put in all three claims. Winning the case has been amazing, and the compensation itself has given me the time and space to try to find a suitable next job, to match my skills and experience.”
Deirdre Tinney, one of the University of Sussex law students who advised Claire, said: “I am absolutely over the moon with the result. Volunteering in the free law clinics is such a rewarding experience, and never more so than when you help a client to win a case. Now that I've graduated, my plan is to do this professionally, using the skills I learnt working with people like Claire.”
Monique Wagner, the other University of Sussex law student who advised Claire, said: "I feel proud that mine and Deirdre's hard work has had a huge impact on our client's case. I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the clinic - it was my favourite module on the course - and I developed more confidence and skills and hope to pursue a career in law."
Professor Amir Paz-Fuchs, Director of the clinics at the University of Sussex, said: “It’s wonderful that our talented students have made such a difference to Claire’s life. Our law clinics have now re-opened so we hope other people will get in touch to see if we can help. The reality is that fewer and fewer people qualify for legal aid these days so there’s a real gap in need which our law clinics try to fill. We teach our students how to advise real people on their problems, and we give free, accurate legal advice to people who need it. I’d urge anyone struggling with a legal issue to contact the clinic.”
The qualified solicitor guiding the students was Rustom Tata from DMH Stallard, who donates his time on a voluntary basis.
The law clinics can help people with employment, family, housing, welfare, criminal justice and migration law concerns. The students also help people who are litigants in person (via the CLOCK clinic) and volunteer with Citizens Advice.
The law clinics have re-opened now that the students have returned to campus. The clinic is open on Wednesday afternoons and is mainly located at the University of Sussex in Falmer. People seeking legal advice should make an appointment by calling 01273 876797; emailing firstname.lastname@example.org; or applying via a form at www.sussex.ac.uk/law/clinical-legal-education/free-legal-advice. The students give legal advice only after they have discussed the matter with a qualified lawyer.