Employment Law Basics

A female lawyer has been charged with discrimination after she blurted out “I can’t stand Jewish people” during an office rant.

Danielle Morris has faced the prospect of losing her career throughout a three-and-a-half-year investigation following the remark during an office conversation, but in a ruling made public yesterday (8 May), the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) fined her £2,500 and ordered her to pay £5,250 in costs.

Ruling that the remarks were “foolish and ignorant rather than malicious”, it was heard that there will be no further disciplinary sanctions to follow.

It was revealed that the situation arose when Mrs Morris complained about a man dressed in orthodox Jewish attire who had jumped the queue at a medical centre while she was waiting to take one of her children to see the doctor.

She later relayed her experience to a receptionist at her law firm, stating:

“I cannot stand Jewish people.”

A Jewish cashier in the office complained saying “please do not say that”, but Mrs Morris added, “I don’t care, I cannot stand them.”

Following the incident on December 4 2009, the cashier left the law firm and brought a racial and religious discrimination claim against Mrs Morris and the practice.

In May 2011 she was awarded an undisclosed sum in damages after the Employment Tribunal ruled in her favour.

Mrs Morris was then called before the SRA after a further complaint of discrimination by the cashier.

Initially she denied making the comment about Jewish people but her Lawyer, Gareth Edwards, later admitted it was “unintentionally discriminatory remark which arose from foolishness and ignorance, not wickedness”.

Mr Edwards said Mrs Morris had tried to apologise to the cashier but it had not been accepted.
He said his client had ‘not been aware’ of the long history of the persecution of Jewish people.

Mr Edwards added:

“Because of her age she has had limited direct contact with those who had been familiar with the discovery of the horrors of the holocaust or the attitudes which had led to these events.

“She now has a greater understanding of the offence she had caused and the context in which her remarks could be seen.”

He continued:

“This was not a case where she held extreme views or had intended to cause offence. She has mainstream moderate views.

“Many people including solicitors make remarks in haste they would later regret. This incident happened several years ago and she has had the matter hanging over her for all this time.”

In making its decision, SRA Panel Chairman, Ken Duncan, said that the panel accepted Mrs Morris had tried to apologise on three occasions, but criticised her for not saying sorry on the day and for not writing a personal letter of apology.

Mr Duncan said:

“What she had said was inappropriate and offensive however it occurred on one occasion only. This was not a situation in which there had been repeated or sustained discrimination.

“The Tribunal took into account the fact that the events in issue had taken place over three years ago and she had been under the threat of potentially losing her career for that period.

“The Tribunal accepted the remarks made were foolish and ignorant rather than malicious.”

Alongside the £7,750 she was ordered to pay by the panel, her legal costs are thought to be £1,000.