A trainee solicitor who claims a leading City law firm rejected her for a job because she was pregnant was criticised for leaving early when she went home at 6.30am after working all night, an employment tribunal heard on Friday.
Katie Tantum, 33, the daughter of a former MI6 director, told senior lawyers at Travers Smith that she felt unwell and needed to go, having spent nearly 24 hours in the office helping to finish a major corporate transaction.
However, Helen Croke, a partner with the firm, said her absence was “problematic” and added that other members of staff stayed on for another seven hours to complete the deal.
David Massarella, representing Miss Tantum, said the Cambridge graduate, knew she left the office at 6.30am because she then visited a Pret a Manger coffee shop that did not open before that time.
Ms Croke denied a suggestion that her witness statement was critical of the trainee solicitor for going home before her colleagues, saying: “I don’t comment, I just explain what happened.”
She also told the hearing in central London that Miss Tantum made a series of errors while preparing documents for the transaction.
“This is not work that can be done and put in a drawer. It has to be on the table and signed in a matter of hours, it has to be right. I can’t believe she did not know she was making mistakes,” she said.
Ms Croke noted in her statement that Miss Tantum had said she “hated” corporate law work, adding: “She gave the impression that she felt a great deal of what was being asked of her was beneath her.”
The senior solicitor, who specialises in handling private equity deals, said other trainees showed more enthusiasm when they were placed with her department.
“They’re excited at being part of the process. There was none of that with Katie. I really got the impression that she didn’t want to be doing what she was doing,” she said.
Asked whether she thought it possible that pregnancy discrimination existed at the firm, Ms Croke replied: “I just can’t believe it.”
Miss Tantum, whose father is Geoffrey Tantum, a former MI6 Middle East director, said the attitude of her supervisor at the leading law firm where she was on a £42,000–a–year training contract changed abruptly when she told him she was pregnant in March last year.
She was one of three trainees out of 22 who were not retained permanently or given a one–year contract last year.
The multilingual lawyer, of Kew, west London, who gave birth to a daughter, Heidi, in November, said the firm had a culture of staying late to “look good”, despite denying this on its website, and that leaving on time was “frowned upon” for trainees.
Julian Bass, head of real estate at Travers Smith, told the hearing today that he was “genuinely delighted” when he learned that Miss Tantum was pregnant.
He said she had demonstrated the skills that “could make her into a good real estate lawyer”, but he decided not to offer her a place in his department.
The firm denies Miss Tantum’s allegations and says her contract was not renewed because she failed to show “intellectual rigour”. Judgment will be reserved to a later date.
Published in The Telegraph on 24 February 2013