Sophie Garner is widely recognised for her expertise in employment and discrimination law. Described by clients and legal directories as “tenacious”, “client friendly” and “a very capable and effective advocate”, Sophie acts for the government as Treasury Counsel (‘A’ Panel) and local authorities, and for a wide range of private clients, from individuals to PLCs. Sophie particularly relishes factually complex and demanding cases, to which she brings exceptional organisational and presentational skills. She chairs the Bar Council’s Retention Panel, dealing with retention of women at the Bar, and sits on the Bar Council’s Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility Committee. She had a key role in devising and drafting the Bar Council’s training for barristers on dealing with harassment.
Sophie represents clients in the full range of employment related litigation, and appears before employment tribunals, the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, as well as the county court (discrimination), High Court (restraint of trade and JR), and before regulatory bodies such as the GMC and TRA (professional misconduct).
Sophie undertakes disciplinary and grievance investigations and is a qualified Mediator.
She has extensive experience of voluntary work as a director and charity trustee and won the Birmingham Law Society’s Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year award in 2019. She was co-founder and is now patron of the charity, Amicus. Sophie is Vice-Chair of the Midland Circuit Women’s Forum.
Sophie is also a member of St Philips Business and Property Group (Restraint of Trade).
A sample of cases showing Sophie’s typical work:
- Advising and representing a consultant against an NHS Trust on a claim of whistleblowing at a 10 day hearing
- Advised and represented a local authority in a long running (five year) series of claims by a litigant in person involving a number of substantive hearings (the longest being 34 days) involving claims of race and disability discrimination.
- Advising and representing in the county court a woman who had been unlawfully expelled from a Sports Club after complaining of discrimination against women members.
- Representing a head teacher, based at a Muslim school, on a 10 day hearing before the TRA and a subsequent five day ET hearing;
- Advising an international sales representative of the applicability of restrictive covenants in the light of an impending injunction hearing.
- Successfully represented a corporate accountant in a claim of sex (pregnancy) discrimination and detriment in relation to a request to work flexibly. Included a fully contested remedy hearing.
- Complex TUPE matter involving allegations of fragmentation of assets amongst numerous subsidiaries in order to defeat the application of the regulations. Despite numerous setbacks and delaying tactics on the part of the putative transferee, a successful settlement was finally achieved.
Sophie undertakes the full range of employment cases in the employment tribunal and regularly appears at the EAT. She has been appointed Treasury Counsel and represents central government departments and a number of local authorities as well as claimants. Many of her instructions involve complex whistleblowing claims.
Recent cases included Chatterjee v Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust (2019) UKEAT/0047/19/BA an appeal on the issue of causation in a protected disclosure claim.
Employment in the High Court
Sophie undertakes restraint of trade cases in the High Court where clients appreciate her down to earth and practical approach. She uses her further knowledge and experience as a professionally qualified company secretary to help disentangle corporate governance disputes that are often the hallmark of conflicts between directors/trustees and senior executive employees in both corporate and voluntary sector organisations.
- Representing two trustees of a charity incorporated by Royal Charter in injunctive proceedings, when an attempt was made to remove them from their positions.
- Representing an international sales rep of a large organisation supplying the automotive trade as to the applicability of his restrictive covenants.
- Successfully representing an IT sales company through interlocutory relief applications and resolution of dispute following breach by two employees of pre and post termination restrictions.
Sophie has extensive experience of representing both claimants and respondents in complex, multi-day discrimination disputes. Her “extremely thorough” and “responsive” approach means that she can take a robust and practical approach to the litigation to achieve the best outcome for clients.
Recent EAT discrimination cases in which Sophie has appeared include Herry v Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council (2016) UKEAT/0100/16 the issue of when a mental health condition amounts to a disability, and Pnaiser v NHS England and Coventry City Council  IRLR 170, which EAT guidance was given on the burden of proof at each stage of the s.15 analysis.
Sophie also represents clients in county court discrimination claims, such as:
- Advising a charity in relation to discrimination by a religious place of worship or whether the provisions of Schedule 23 to the Equality Act 2010 applied.
- Advising and representing a woman expelled from a sporting club following her well-founded accusations that the club’s constitution was in breach of the Equality Act
- Advising and representing parents who alleged discrimination by a school against their disabled child.
Sophie undertakes independent investigations on behalf of employers and employing organisations in grievance and disciplinary processes. Her work as an employment and discrimination barrister has equipped her with detailed and essential knowledge about how to ensure investigation processes are carried out efficiently and thoroughly. In line with her experience as a mediator, she aims to bring a measure of balance and proportionality to any process she is involved with to ensure the best possible outcome for the parties involved.
Sophie has particular knowledge and expertise in matters where allegations of harassment or discrimination are made, or where there are other sensitive issues that need to be handled sensitively. Recent investigations have included a grievance involving serious allegations of sexual harassment, and a collective grievance brought against a head teacher by 39 staff.
Sophie qualified with CEDR (2000), ADR Group (2009) and Globis (2011 – specialist workplace mediation).
She has had extensive experience of dispute resolution in many contexts over her wide-ranging career. Although Sophie’s work is now employment based, she was initially a general civil and commercial practitioner. As a qualified governance professional she has worked with numerous voluntary organisations.
When acting as mediator Sophie is able to draw upon her wide and extensive career experience and her strong communications skills to guide the parties to a satisfactory settlement.
- Workplace mediation involving CEO of substantial West Midlands based charity
- Mediation between senior manager and former employer on the settlement of a high court employment dispute
Mr Justin Sanjay Chatterjee v Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust UKEAT/0047/19/BA,  9 WLUK 556 – represented the appellant in this appeal dealing with causation in a protected disclosure claim.
Herry v Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council  ICR 610 – represented the Respondent in this appeal brought by an ET claimant against a £110,000 order for costs against him, and guidance given on the issue of whether his mental health condition amounted to a disability.
Greco v Ms D Greco v General Physics UK Ltd (2016) UKEAT/0114/16/DM – Successfully defended this appeal against the ET’s decision to dismiss a claim of sex discrimination. Grounds of appeal related to adequacy of reasons and bias and the enforceability of s.111A (pre-termination discussions) – see article here.
Pnaiser v NHS England and Coventry City Council  IRLR 170 – Disability discrimination – s.15 ‘discrimination because of something arising from disability’. Guidance given on the burden of proof at each stage of the s.15 analysis.
Governing Body of St Michael’s Church of England Junior and Infant School v Smith (2014) UKEAT/0165/14/KN – appeal on the grounds of apparent bias against the ET’s finding that the Claimant had been unfairly dismissed. Appeal successful.
Simpson v Intralinks  I.L.Pr. 34;  Eq. L.R. 732 (EAT) – Employee brought claim in UK Tribunal under German contract of employment. EAT considered the allocation of jurisdiction under conflict of laws in cases with overseas employees, where sex discrimination and equal pay claims made.
Owens v Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council  I.C.R. 453 (CA) – determination by the Court of Appeal of whether a counsellor working in education qualified as a teacher under the Teachers Pension Scheme.
Appointments and Memberships
Member of Attorney General’s Panel of Counsel (2020)
Additional Professional Qualifications:
Associate of the Chartered Governance Institute (formerly ICSA)
Accredited Commercial Mediator: CEDR (2000), ADR Group (2009)
Accredited Workplace Mediator, Globis (2011)
Chair, Bar Council Retention Panel
Committee Member, Bar Council EDRSM Committee
Vice-Chair, Midland Circuit Women’s Forum
Patron of ‘Amicus’ Charity since 2012
Trustee of MWNUK
Discrimination Law Association
Employment Lawyers Association
Employment Law Bar Association