Founding principal who unfairly dismissed solicitor ordered to pay further $24k

By Naomi Neilson|08 April 2021
Sydney

The Fair Work Commission has ordered that a founding principal pay a former junior solicitor almost $25,000 after unfairly dismissing him on unproven claims that the solicitor was “aggressive and rude” and had deceived him financially.

In the weeks prior to COVID-19 lockdowns, founding principal Brett Galloway unfairly dismissed a solicitor and ordered that he leave the building as police and colleagues watched on. Having found the reasons for the dismissal unfair and unsubstantiated, the Fair Work Commission ordered Mr Galloway to pay the solicitor $24,086.41.

Amid financial concerns about the firm’s ability to ride out the pandemic, a meeting was held the day prior to the dismissal in which Mr Galloway was said to have assured the solicitor he would “sort out his commissions” following allegations by employees that he had fallen behind on paying staff and other business expenses.

He was alleged to have told a female employee – dismissed on the same day and awarded almost $50,000 in compensation – that the solicitor was a “spoilt kid” that had “threatened him” when concerns about the firm’s finances and the staff anxiety came up. Despite assuring the female employee that he would be back the next day to come up with a stability plan, he returned with termination letters for them both.

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In the solicitor’s letter, Mr Galloway accused him of attempted intimidation during circumstances where he and a judge were not seeing “eye to eye”, prompting the solicitor to be “aggressive and rude”. He accused the solicitor of changing submissions in a “legally unhelpful” way that prompted criticism from the judge.  

In response, the solicitor said that Mr Galloway was being criticised repeatedly by the judge for the way he asked questions during a cross-examination, and that Mr Galloway did not object to the improper questioning during the Crown’s cross-examination of their client. The solicitor also alleged Mr Galloway “fell asleep during the trial”, promoting the solicitor to wake him up by nudging him under the table.

Some of the other allegations levelled against the solicitor in the termination letter included claims that the solicitor had been “openly hostile” in the office and had caused Mr Galloway “personal embarrassment” with a client and professional embarrassment with the court due to “inaction” during an upcoming hearing.

“You have been well paid, treated with kindness and respect throughout your time with me. I do not tolerate your behaviour,” Mr Galloway wrote in the letter.  

The solicitor denied all the allegations and, with no evidence to back up the claims, the Fair Work Commission ruled that the conduct in question did not occur.

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Despite it not being mentioned in the termination letter, Mr Galloway would later claim that the solicitor had deceived him by taking more commission than he was owed. In February 2019, the solicitor had asked Mr Galloway for a 10 per cent increase in his commission, which was approved and recorded by the female employee in extensive financial records that she constantly kept up.

In another claim outside the letter, Mr Galloway accused the solicitor of attending a client’s house to collect cash payments and did not bring it into the office. The Fair Work Commission did not accept the contention of alleged gross misconduct.

In addressing Mr Galloway’s behaviour during the proceedings, the commission’s deputy president Lyndall Dean said that fell short of the expectations of a highly experienced lawyer and said his closing submissions were “difficult”.  

“With some measure of restraint, I will limit my comments to saying that the submissions are highly misleading and inaccurate in that they bear almost no resemblance to the evidence or what actually happened during the hearing. I do not consider it an effective use of time to correct all the inaccuracies,” Ms Dean said.

The entire judgement can be found on AustLII here.

While Lawyers Weekly has opted to not name the solicitor or female employee in this article, it is our usual practice to include the judgement information – where their names are published – so that our readers may be able to access the entire decision and learn more details about the case.

Founding principal who unfairly dismissed solicitor ordered to pay further $24k
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