Sex discrimination by a law firm

Top law firm liable for sex discrimination against male solicitor

In an interesting recently reported employment tribunal claim, Eversheds, a well known and highly regarded law firm was found to have sexually discriminated against a male employee solicitor in relation to selection for redundancy. The case highlights that employers need to be proportionate in terms of making special provision for pregnant staff or those on maternity leave.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal found that Eversheds had artificially improved the female member of staffs appraisal scores when selecting for redundancies because the firm was more worried about a sex discrimination claim from her than from the male employee.

As this unusual case (both in terms of the defendants being a highly regarded law firm and the claim of discrimination by a man) shows, discrimination can work both ways, and lawyers do not always get it right when dealing with their own legal matters !

If you believe you have been subjected to any form of employment discrimination, whether sex discrimination, race discrimination, age discrimination or religious discrimination, taking employment law legal advice is an important first step.

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About Party Walls

Party Walls

Many homes and gardens will share certain elements of the property with their neighbours. Whether it be a small stretch of fence, an interior wall or the floors of an upper floor flat, there are many situations where you may be responsible for a party wall and have to abide by the laws surrounding it.

Since 1997, the Party Wall Act 1996 has given a legal enforcement to homeowners’ rights and responsibilities in regard to walls and other borders they share with their neighbours. In legal terms, a party wall is defined as one of the following: a wall forming part of one building, but which is on the boundary of another property; a garden wall which sits astride the property’s boundary line; a wall which is common to two properties (such as between two semi detached or terraced houses; floors and ceilings of flats.

The Party Wall Act prohibits either party from undertaking certain types of work without the permission of the other. It does not replace the need for planning permission for certain types of work and neither does planning permission replace the need to get the other party’s permission. Some work can be done without permission of the other party, for instance rewiring, plastering and decorating or putting up shelves.

The type of work that does require permission includes changes to the wall itself, including demolition, rebuilding or changes in height or thickness, excavations within 3m of a neighbouring building, damp proof course work, underpinning and cutting into the party wall to insert load bearing beams. In general, any work which may have an effect on neighbouring properties or on the structure or support function of the party wall must be notified, but if you are unsure then seek advice from a Building Control Officer or an architect.

If it transpires that the work you are planning does fall under the Party wall Act, then you must issue a notice with all the details of the proposed work to all affected neighbours. This notice must give the date you plan to start the work from and you need to await written permission from all affected neighbours at least two months before you plan to start the project. In the event that a neighbour has not responded within 14 days then it will be assumed that there is a dispute, but work must not start until written permission has been obtained from all parties.

If a dispute arises because an agreement cannot be reached with the neighbour, then you will need to appoint a surveyor to make the decision for you. He or she will be able to take a professional and impartial view of the situation and will be able to recommend the work you are planning, or to make amendments to the plans. The surveyor will make an award either in favour of the plans to go ahead, or to reject them.

It is important to remember than once a surveyor has been appointed a under the Party Wall Act, they have a legal duty to behave in an impartial manner. Even if it was you who appointed them, they cannot and will not act in your interests and will only view the situation in terms of what they think is reasonable for the property. Once a surveyor has been appointed they cannot be changed and their decision is final, although an appeal to the County Court can be made within 14 days of the surveyor issuing his award.

Normally it is the person who is seeking the neighbour’s permission for works who pays the fees of the surveyor. Fees can soon mount up, as the average cost for a surveyor in London is in the region of £120 per hour. In some cases the adjoining neighbour may want to appoint his own surveyor, for which London companies charge a flat fee of around £700 – £1300, but which the adjoining neighbour will have to pay himself.

Once the award has been made, the project can commence, but do make sure you have the award in hand as there can be delays, often involving the payment of surveyor’s fees, which can delay the paperwork and put you in breach of the law.

If you are the adjoining neighbour and feel that your neighbour has undertaken some work that is in breach of the Party Wall Act, it is highly recommended that you seek legal advice at the earliest possible stage to ensure you do not incur unnecessary costs during the course of your dispute.

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Neighbour disputes – some tips

Neighbour Disputes

Everyone looks forward to peace and quiet in their home, so disputes with neighbours can be very unpleasant. Neighbour disputes are wide and varied, but often the dispute escalates after the aggrieved party does not want to confront their neighbour with concerns.

It is sometimes necessary for a property owner to enter the neighbours property to carry out repairs on their own premises. The title deeds to the property may allow a legal right of access onto neighbouring land for a specific purpose. If there is no such clause in the title deeds, the owner may apply to the County Court for an access order to enter neighbouring land to carry out essential repairs. There is a fee for this application.

Especially in the case of flats, some amenities such as drains, pipes and driveways need to be shared. The title deeds will normally show who is responsible for the maintenance of these amenities. If the deeds are silent, it will be beneficial for the parties to split the costs between them.

Boundary disputes are the most common form of upset between neighbours. One party may feel that a fence or wall has been put up by their neighbour and it is encroaching on their land. The title deeds should be clear as to the precise area of the boundaries, but if the deeds are unclear, a chartered surveyor should be able to pinpoint the precise boundaries. Boundaries can, however, change through agreement or encroachment. If a fence has been positioned incorrectly for 20 years and no party has complained, the party who has benefited from the extra piece of land will now legally own it. If boundaries have changed, legal advice should be sought.

If a wall or fence is owned by one party, the neighbour has no rights over it. This means that the neighbour could not use the fence to support trailing plants. If a fence is jointly owned, both neighbours can use it so long as it has not been made unsafe. Repairs to the fence should then be financed jointly. There is no obligation for a fence to be repaired unless it is stated in the title deeds or lease. Be aware however, that if a third party is injured as a result of the damage, the owners may be sued. A fence which faces the street should be maintained to prevent nuisance to passers-by. Planning permission for a wall or fence is not necessary unless over 1 metre high next to the highway and over 2 metres anywhere else, whilst there are no restrictions on the height of hedges.

Another common complaint by neighbours is that of noise, especially when there are children around. This is worse in the summer when windows are open and more time is spent in the garden, but a quiet chat with the neighbour should resolve any issues. If the child causes damage to neighbouring property, the child itself may be sued or the parents sued for not having adequate control.

If a neighbour has a television or radio on too loud, just ask them if they would turn the sound down. It is advisable to keep a diary in order to record disturbances along with any evidence. An Environmental Health Office can investigate noise nuisance and will measure the noise and give their opinion. Usually an abatement notice is issued requesting that the noise levels are reduced, but in extreme circumstances, the Local Authority has the power to seize the noise making equipment. In respect of noise, speakers should not be used in the street between the hours of 9pm and 8am. Car alarms also tend to annoy neighbours and the Local Authority do have powers in respect of disabling the alarms.

Parking is a big issue for neighbours. There is not an automatic right to park on the road directly outside your house. It is a public road and therefore any roadworthy vehicle is entitled to park there. People do however have a right of access to their drive. If there is a shared drive, all parties have access. The access should not be blocked. The Local Authority and the Police have power to remove vehicles that are parked illegally, are causing an obstruction or have been abandoned.

Some neighbour disputes are very serious, sometimes including racially motivated attacks. The abuse may be verbal or graffiti written on the walls. The Police would be called to deal with matters including breach of the peace, assault or harassment.

Disputes between neighbours are unpleasant and can often be resolved through communication either verbal or in writing. In most instances, the parties need to be prepared to compromise. The Citizens Advice Bureau will be able to offer appropriate advice and assistance and mediators may also be able to offer assistance and break the ice.

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