Samantha Mangwana talks her role in a landmark sexual harassment appeal case
Samantha Mangwana was drawn to employment law because “prevention is better than the cure”.
The new strategy lead for byrne∙dean chose her area of specialisation at a time when new discrimination protections were being introduced and her world was going through social change. As someone who “was always motivated by the aim of challenging injustices”, Mangwana hasn’t looked back from employment law since.
In this December 2023 interview, Mangwana discusses her transition from national head of employment at Shine Lawyers to an in-house role, working on a landmark sexual harassment appeal case, and her thoughts on a fictional villain who wanted to cancel Christmas.
What led you to a career in law in the first place, and eventually to specialise in employment law?
I realised that the very people that I'd met in the law were all people I found interesting and engaging. I decided to do some work experience and absolutely loved it. I was still at the firm 18 years later.
As the daughter of two doctors, I thought I’d end up specialising in medical negligence, but during my training contract I was really captivated by employment. It was at a point in time when a lot of new discrimination protections were coming in, and so it felt part of how the world around me was changing socially. Employment law is also really fast-paced, with important decisions happening pretty much daily. And most of us work after all, so it's very easy to relate to.
Transitioning to byrne·dean is a big career shift – what were the main factors that enabled you to take the plunge?
I was always motivated by the aim of challenging injustices. My frustration with litigation was that it did nothing to achieve change and I saw the same situations time and again.
Although I could get good outcomes on an individual basis, the problems had already happened. Prevention is better than the cure. At Byrne Dean, we get ahead of that instead, helping organisations to be kinder, fairer workplaces where people can realise their potential.
What important things did you learn during your time as national head of employment at Shine Lawyers that you think you’ll be able to apply to your new position?
I advised individuals (employees, executives and partners) and organisations on contentious workplace disputes, high-value severance negotiations and managing exits smoothly. I worked on very high-profile discrimination and whistleblowing cases, in particular within the legal and financial services sector – where Byrne Dean do a lot of their work.
So simply put, I have huge experience of what it looks like when things go wrong, how it happens, and what could have been done instead. I'll be partnering with organisations keen to apply this learning to their workplace dynamics, strategically.
You’ve worked across the UK and Australia – what is the most significant employment law issue you’ve dealt with in Australia? What’s the biggest one in the UK?
In Queensland, I dealt with a major sexual harassment compensation appeal case, setting a new legal precedent and dramatically raising the level of compensation available for sexual harassment.
In London, I acted for the Fawcett Society, the UK's leading gender equality campaign, in the wake of the austerity cuts. This was the first judicial review challenge of a national budget to ensure compliance with the public sector equality duty.
What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?
I just can't wait to roll my sleeves up and really get stuck in. I feel really privileged to have the opportunity to work closely with organisations to shape the future outcomes for their people.
If you had to defend a fictional antagonist/villain in court, who would you pick, and why?
The Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, as played by the late great Alan Rickman. Partly because there's a decent defence where he thought he was upholding law and order in dealing with robbers and outlaws, but mainly for the theatrical flourishes which made him so much more entertaining than the official hero – like his idea of the ultimate sanction being to cancel Christmas.