Inspirational Woman: Gillian Howard | High-Profile Employment Lawyer & Author

In her career in law, spanning over 40 years, Gillian Howard has fearlessly taken on some of the world’s largest companies in epic ‘David & Goliath’ style legal battles, she has won major settlements for her clients, including a single payout of $70 million and numerous seven-figure settlements. One of Gillian’s cases was made into a BBC docu-drama (with Sarah Lancashire cast in her role) and Gillian has now published a book sharing some of her most fascinating cases (Secrets & Lie, Tales of An Employment Lawyer)

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role?

I was born in Coventry and went to school in Leamington Spa at the Kingsley High School for Girls founded in 1884 by Rose Kingsley, daughter of the writer Charles Kingsley. She founded the school as there were no schools for girls. They instilled in us the confidence to be strong women and to have professional careers.

I was brought up in a Jewish home but with liberal parents who taught me right from wrong and to stand up to bullies – which I always did.  

I was brought up to be kind and to always support the underdog – a value that has continued in my career path.

I first learned to handle bullies when a child in my school used horrible anti-semitic comments. She never did it again – at least not in my presence.

It was my father who suggested I study law – I am glad I took his wonderful advice.

I specialise in all aspects of employment law but fighting discrimination in the workplace for women or any employee who in a minority or is being harassed or bullied are my key passions and focus.

I also defend doctors and dentists and nurses and teachers before their Regulatory Bodies, the General Medical Council and General Dental Council and Nursing and Midwifery Council and The Teaching Regulation Agency.

I have even acted for several traders who have fallen foul of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and who have done some rather naughty things!

Fighting on behalf of women who have been sexually discriminated against or sexually harassed at work, and standing up for LGBTQ+ people and anyone with mental health disabilities is incredibly important to me. I will help anyone who has been a victim of discrimination.  I also act in contractual disputes for example bonus disputes or pay disputes mainly for women who have been underpaid and undervalued.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Oh Yes.  After I left Bristol University to go to Cambridge to do postgraduate research in Labour Law, I worked at a Law Centre. I realised very early on (in 1974) that many people have never had any access or the possibility of access to lawyers.

At that time, I realised that employees had little protection in law and that minorities such as professional women in the higher grades were vastly under-represented and underpaid. Women were often the target of sex pests and all too often gay employees were passed over for jobs or were targeted for harassment and bullying of an appalling kind.

After University I decided on a career in employment law and as anti-discrimination legislation was passed, I decided to specialise in this area of employment law.

Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you persevere through the tough times?

Yes, I have faced lies and deceit from employers and their expensive lawyers, but I have fought this and won. I have a dogged determination to ferret out the truth and to go to any lengths to win for my client.

I won’t ever be bullied, nor allow my clients to be bullied during the course of the litigation and I never give up. I refuse to be intimidated by the opposition, no matter how large or prestigious it may be.  Tough times are there to be overcome, believing in and being passionate about my work always gets me through. I don’t see problems – I see solutions.

What has been your most significant achievement to date?

Winning an 11 million Euro settlement for a client sacked after 24 years of employment – she was the most senior woman in the bank. She was a brilliant Head of Desk who won millions of Euros in revenue but was passed over for promotion and grossly underpaid.  She placed a grievance for being paid pitiful bonuses over several years whilst her male colleagues were paid millions of Euros in bonuses.

The employer hid very damaging documents, but I “found” them and exposed them and they were forced to settle the litigation two days before trial.
I am also very proud of acting for a fantastic trader in the 1980s who should have been made a Partner but was told he wasn’t going to be because their private clients would not deal with a black person as a Partner. We won $10,000,000 and a public finding of racial discrimination and victimisation – which he what he told me he wanted.
He went back to the States, invested in start-ups and sold out for $350,000,000 and now lives in retirement enjoying his wealth and giving millions of $s away to charities and helping disadvantaged children to get a foot on their career ladder.

What one thing do you believe has been a significant factor in your achieving success?

My wonderful parents, who sent me to a fantastic school; believed in me; instilled great confidence in me; nurtured me; taught me wonderful values and ethical standards; showed me kindness and generosity and to those not so well off as us; gave me the opportunity to study and told me I would be good at Law (how they knew I do not know – but that’s what they told me).

I believe that my photographic memory, my genuine interest and love of people, my belief that no one should be without legal representation because they cannot afford it, my abhorrence of anyone being bullied or discriminated against, my determination that bullies, cheats and liars will NEVER win and my Jewish religious beliefs have made me the person and the lawyer I am.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone, or are you someone’s mentee?

I suppose my “mentors” were my English teacher at School, Mrs Harrison, and my wonderful tutor at Cambridge the late Professor Paul O’Higgins both of whom taught me so much about literature, the theatre, politics and the way I went in my career – fighting for the underdog.

Yes, I have mentored two young trainee solicitors who were a joy to mentor.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Meaningful tougher legislation for unfair and unlawful treatment at work, much more powerful penalties when employers are found guilty of discrimination, making it much easier to get justice in the Employment Tribunals and making criminal offences for some of the civil claims under the Equality Act 2010 and banning NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) in Settlement Agreements so that the employer and the discriminator can be named and shamed even when a settlement is reached.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Do exactly what you did – study law, specialise in employment law and act for those that need it most.

What is your next challenge, and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

To write another book based on more of my cases; to make another docu-drama (“Sex, The City & Me” was based on two of my clients and I was legal adviser to the BBC production company); get a film made about some of the cases in my book: “Secrets and Lies – Tales of an Employment Lawyer”.

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