Lawyer of the Month: Margaret Gribbon
Scottish solicitor Margaret Gribbon has dealt with many serious employment issues and cases over the years. Her experience dates back to her days of working for the Equal Opportunities Commission, followed by the Citizens Advice Bureau, and as a trade unionist before she qualified as a lawyer in the mid-1990s.
Despite her immersion in this area, she says she was still “shocked” by how badly Police Scotland handled the allegations of victimisation and sex discrimination of her client former Police Constable Rhona Malone while she was a firearms officer with the force.
The long-running case of former Police Constable Malone made big headlines in the spring of this year when Police Scotland confirmed it had reached a sizeable settlement with Ms Malone – a payment of £947,909. This came on the back of an employment tribunal’s liability findings in October 2021 that misogyny and sexism was rife in the Police Scotland armed response unit based in Fettes in Edinburgh. The force admitted the culture in armed policing in 2017 and 2018 was “unacceptable”. Chief Constable Iain Livingstone also apologised and called in an outside force to review its culture and conduct.
At the time of the payout being made public, Ms Gribbon said that Ms Malone’s case “must serve as a watershed for Police Scotland”. Speaking now, Ms Gribbon, of Bridge Employment Solicitors in Glasgow, says: “If I was giving a textbook example of how not to deal with a complaint of sex discrimination and victimisation, I would use this case. Ms Malone was treated appallingly after raising her complaints; the organisation turned on her rather than dealing with the source of the problems.”
Ms Gribbon got involved in the case when she was recommended to Ms Malone by another police officer she had acted for in another sex discrimination case against Police Scotland. “I was instructed in 2019,” she says. “It was a long and very hard-fought litigation. These litigations are not for the faint-hearted and a few times Rhona came to close to giving up. I’m very glad she didn’t and it is testament to her grit and determination that she carried on.”
She says that while she is not criticising any clients who seek monetary compensation – as that is a legitimate form of redress – for Ms Malone it genuinely was never about the money. “She was just treated so badly and wanted accountability. What makes it worse, and I’ve seen this with other women who have pursued similar claims, is the devastating loss of self-confidence they suffer by losing the careers they loved and excelled at. Rhona regarded the police as her family.”
She adds: “The employment tribunal’s findings laid bare the extent of the problem of misogyny and sexism within the police.” This ranged from an inspector sending pictures of naked women, referring to female officers in derogatory terms, and a senior male firearms officers telling a female officer women should not be firearms officers because they menstruate and that affects their temperament.
According to Ms Gribbon, the Ms Malone case was assisted by the courage of both male and female police officers who gave evidence on her behalf about her treatment and the culture within firearms.
Ms Malone raised concerns about sexism within the force after receiving an email in January 2018 from an Acting Inspector saying two female firearms officers should not be deployed together when there were sufficient male staff on duty. Ms Gribbon says there was the email was demonstrably sexist although Police Scotland continued to argue otherwise.
Ms Gribbon stated: “Firearms officers are trained at great cost to the taxpayer. Competent female firearms officers were driven out of firearms because of the sexism and misogyny, and because they said they had come to the depressing realisation that it was unlikely to change.”
She adds: “If Rhona’s complaint had been handled competently internally, she would not have lost her career and the force a competent and diligent officer.”
On whether the culture will change within policing, Ms Gribbon says: “It remains to be seen whether Police Scotland are genuinely committed to tackling the problems exposed by this case. It will be for the public and politicians to closely monitor what action is taken in response to this case.”
While she describes this case as not dissimilar to others she has handled, what singles it out is the monetary value, close to £1 million.
Another case that has made a mark on Ms Gribbon was “having a front-row seat” at Ravat vs Halliburton Manufacturing and Services Ltd in 2012 at the Supreme Court in London. The case was around the test for when workers are covered by employment rights when they work abroad. She describes going to Supreme Court for the case as a “great experience”.
Despite being a solicitor for decades and now having her own practice that she launched just last year, Ms Gribbon came to law as a second career. She saw it as a natural progression from her advice work with the Equal Opportunities Commission and Citizens Advice Bureau, as well as her trade union activities. “I had some friends who were lawyers and who encouraged me to give up my job and study the LLB,” she says.
With a social sciences degree that she did part-time over five years under her belt, Ms Gribbon started an accelerated LLB at the University of Glasgow in 1993, followed by her diploma. She started at Thompsons Solicitors, working in Scotland and England, before joining Digby Brown where she was a partner, heading its employment practice. She left there in 2009 and worked as a consultant for 10 years before establishing Bridge Employment Solicitors.
And in terms of what comes next in her employment law career, Ms Gribbon says she plans to just “keep going”.